Literacy key to Indigenous COVID response

·2-min read

Australia's "white fellas" going into remote Indigenous communities to fight the pandemic need to understand that many can't read, an inquiry has been warned.

Basic literacy is already a barrier for young mums needing to give drugs to their babies and elders, and understand their own dosage on the medicine bottle, Jack Beetson, executive director of Literacy for Life, said on Thursday.

"How do Aboriginal people make an informed decision about whether to get the vaccination or not when they can't read the literature?" Professor Beetson said.

"You certainly can't rely on the TV or the news or anything like that because the advice is so conflicting."

The military has been sent into western NSW Indigenous communities to boost vaccination rates as Sydney's COVID-19 outbreak spreads into the outer reaches of the state.

"They (Indigenous communities) need to know how it's going to improve their life and the situation where they are," Liberal MP Terry Young told the committee.

Mr Young is part of an inquiry into adult literacy and also serves on federal parliament's Indigenous affairs committee.

"One thing that we've learnt is that Indigenous people aren't going to take something on just because a bunch of white fellas tell them it's a good thing to do," he said.

About 60 per cent of the cases in western NSW are Indigenous people.

More Pfizer doses are being sent to the region, where Indigenous children aged 12 and above are eligible along with all adults.

Nationally, 15 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have received both doses, but the rate is less than 10 per cent for Indigenous people in NSW.

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations chair Jane Halton, a former federal health chief, says the communities need to get vaccinated and protect each other.

"I've been worried about this now for weeks on end. We need to get in front of this," she said.

"There can often be eight or 10 people in the one household. You can't send a child home to isolate in a household with that many people in it."

She said the vaccine flying squads need to work with Aboriginal medical services and Aboriginal people to make sure people turn up and get vaccinated.

Federal officials insist it's not too late.

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