• The vaccines against COVID-19 are rolling it out to the first priority groups this week. (AAP)Source: AAP
The COVID-19 vaccine roll out is one of the largest logistical challenges the nation has faced and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be first in line to receive it.
Sarah Collard

22 Feb 2021 - 4:16 PM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2021 - 4:16 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are amongst the priority groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations as the federal government gets to work on a mammoth roll out.

The first priority group will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last month, with people needing two does taken 21 days apart to be protected. 

The AstraZenaca vaccine was approved just days ago by the TGA and priority groups can expect the jab in a few weeks - with two doses given around one month to three months apart in order for it to be most effective.

For Ngunnawal Elder, Violet Sheridan, the height of the coronavirus pandemic was a frightening time - especially while caring full time for her school-aged grandchildren. 

“It was so scary,” the 67-year-old told NITV News. 

“I didn’t like going to the shops if there was a lot of people… I used to go at ungodly hours of the night to do my shopping - because I was just scared.

“I am high risk. I’ve got diabetes, I’ve got asthma and I am Aboriginal." 

“I am a carer for my two little ones and I don’t want to catch anything to bring it home and I don’t want them to catch it and bring it home to me."

Ms Sheridan said while she was apprehensive about the vaccine she is urging others to get it to ensure they can protect themselves and the wider community. 

“I am a bit nervous about it but also I am really looking forward to it," she told NITV News.

"I encourage other Elders and the community to step up and get the jab because we are in the high-risk and we need to be protected against this awful, awful virus.” 

The rising death-toll from coronavirus around the world is a grim reminder for the grandmother. 

“I’ve just watched and seen so many people dying [overseas] from this.” 

Where are mob in the vaccination queue? 

The first phase of the vaccine roll out starts today and includes an estimated 670,000 Australians who are most at risk of getting the virus or are most at risk of suffering serious complications.

First priority for the vaccine will be front-line health workers, including those at Aboriginal Medical Centres, those living or working in aged care and other residential facilities, along with quarantine and border workers 

Next it’s First Nations people aged over 55, anyone aged over 70-years-old, other health workers, and those with underlying health issues as well as emergency services personal. 

In the third group, Indigenous people aged between 18-55 will be next in line, as well as other critical workers who are at risk.

Wiradjuri woman, Casey Boyd, is a front-line health worker at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service in Canberra. 

Ms Boyd is lining up to get the vaccine this week as one of the priority staff. 

“I actually can’t wait to have it. I’d prefer to have the jab rather than getting COVID… We deserve to be at the front of the queue for once, so I think it’s a really good thing.” 

Ms Boyd said that while Australia hasn't seen the kinds of community transmission that has ravaged other countries she encouraged other First Nations people to get protected. 

"Although we have been fortunate, it doesn’t mean this is not going to come here in force. We've seen multiple lockdowns... We will be more fortunate if everyone just gets the jab. 

“I know that we have fears, especially around getting the jab, please do it, do it for yourself and do it for your community.” 

'Huge challenge' especially for vulnerable clients 

More than 80 per cent of Indigenous people in Australia live in towns and cities and it’s here where most of the community will receive their vaccinations. 

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service CEO Julie Tongs told NITV News the roll out was going to present some "huge challenges".

“We have a mobile population and three months is a long period of time, especially for vulnerable clients,” said Ms Tongs. 

Dr Jason Agostino, medical adviser for the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said there will be multiple vaccination points. 

"People who want to access it from an Aboriginal Community Controlled Service will be able to, but there will be other options too - GPs, health clinics, some hospital hubs. There will be a lot of places to get it," said Mr Agostino.

Remote communities are expected to get the AstraZenaca vaccine due to issues around cold chain storage - that vaccine needs to be stored around minus 70 degrees but can be stored for up to five days in a refrigerator. 

First Nations people around the world have gotten COVID-19 jab

The epidemiologist who also sits on the federal government's COVID-19 Indigenous advisory group said the vaccines are safe and have been given to Indigenous peoples abroad. 

"First Nations people across the world have already received this vaccine - thousands of them," he told NITV news.

"First Nations people were included in the studies as well as people with the chronic conditions that we know a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are more likely to have." 

Dr Agostino said the usual processes have been followed but the time frame between steps has been sped up which is why we are seeing the vaccine roll out faster than it usually does. 

"Every single step that you need to do for a vaccine has been met... It's gone through the full review that every vaccine has ever gone through." he said. 

"We're one year into this and we have had no deaths in Indigenous people - which is amazing when you look at what's happening in the United States or Canada or in Brazil.

"We now have the opportunity to roll this out and make sure that we keep coronavirus out of communities."

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