Push for Indigenous COVID-19 vaccine boost

·2-min read

Indigenous advocates have implored their community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, ahead of an expected case surge when states reopen for travel.

With Indigenous vaccination rates well below the levels seen in the broader community, health officials in state and territories are leading a renewed push to boost immunisation levels.

While more than 80 per cent of the population aged over 16 is fully vaccinated, that figure is just 54.5 per cent among Indigenous Australians.

Among the areas leading a push is Queensland, where officials and government members are heading to remote communities in Cape York and Torres Strait Islands as part of a vaccination drive.

The state's health minister Yvette D'ath said the increase in Indigenous vaccine rates was necessary ahead of Queensland border coming down when an 80 per cent double dose target is reached.

"The virus is coming, and we know when the border reopens, the virus will come into every single community," she said.

While the Indigenous vaccine rate in NSW, the ACT and Victoria is 80 per cent first dose and 70 per cent second, it's below 55 per cent in states such as Queensland, SA and WA.

Those under 40 also account for a majority of cases in Indigenous communities.

Steve Renouf from Indigenous health organisation Deadly Choices said it was important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities not to be left behind.

"It's our mob and we want to protect them," he said.

"We've got to realise COVID is coming and we need to be vaccinated."

It comes as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has warned of more positive cases among Indigenous people as people move across the country during the summer holiday period.

The college's chair of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health Professor Peter O'Mara said as restrictions ease across the country, more cases will be seen in the Indigenous population.

"As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already face considerable health inequalities and higher rates of chronic diseases, they are more at risk of severe illness and death from this virus," Prof O'Mara said.

"The fact that there remains a serious gap in vaccine coverage between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people in our country is a national shame."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted earlier this week more was needed to boost Indigenous vaccine rates, especially in WA and Queensland.

In just a three-month period, 7000 COVID cases were detected among the Indigenous population, which included 700 hospitalisations and 16 deaths.

Prof O'Mara has called for greater communication to Indigenous communities to boost immunisation rates.

"We need to know where the biggest gaps are in vaccine coverage and target these areas," he said.

"This requires working together with communities and leaders to tackle the scourge of health misinformation."

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