• Uncle Jack Charles gives the thumbs up after receiving his vaccine at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Indigenous communities in Victoria are among the most vaccinated people in the nation, as the VAHS records an overwhelmingly positive response to its vaccine rollout.
Mikele Syron

16 Jul 2021 - 1:12 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2021 - 2:16 PM

Victoria has seen a successful progression of the COVID vaccination program for First Nations people, with 38% of the state's Indigenous population now inoculated.

Michael Graham, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), told NITV News that ongoing communication and maintaining trust have been the biggest drivers in the community's positive response to the vaccine rollout.

“Our job is to ensure that the community is as informed as it can be. We constantly put the message out to our community about the vaccine in the lead up to its roll out.

“The results have been fantastic. Those who have come to get it are in a culturally safe environment, they're fully informed about the vaccine and they trust what we are telling them.

"It's not just about the vaccine rollout, it's about the transparency from an organisation you've trusted all of your life and so has your family,” Mr Graham said.

The encouraging Victorian statistics stand in contrast to the experience in NSW. 

“It really worries me when I hear about the vaccine hesitancy in other AMS's around the nation. I worry about our people across the country. 

Last week Aboriginal Medical Services in Sydney’s western suburbs told NITV that widespread vaccine hesitancy and confusion meant very few Indigenous people were opting to get the jab.

Mr Graham said that whilst proud of the organisation’s success, he has great concern for other communities across the nation.

“It really worries me when I hear about the vaccine hesitancy in other AMS's around the nation. I worry about our people across the country. 

“The approach we are taking is not forcing or even encouraging people to come and get the vaccine, we are just giving them the opportunity, information, resources.

"They need to make the decision and feel comfortable with the decision."

The service began rolling out the vaccine to the community on March 19, at the time only offering AstraZeneca, administering 551 doses.

Mr Graham acknowledged that other Aboriginal Medical Services may experience a greater uptake of the vaccine when Pfizer is offered, given it has proven to be the popular choice.

“AstraZeneca got taken up pretty fast but as more things came out in the media, people were spooked and most people decided not to come in which slowed everything right down. 

"We've had a huge influx of people since we received Pfizer, there was a huge uptake,” he told NITV News.

Dr Jenny Hunt, Clinical Director of Victoria Aboriginal Health Service agreed that there was some concern and hesitancy amongst the community around vaccines before Pfizer was offered.

“Our approach has been to provide information and let people know that they can access the vaccine here. We’re promoting it but not pushing too hard and what we’ve seen is an ongoing increase in demand.

"The word has gotten out there, and it’s spreading.

“We put our hands up to get the Astra Zeneca as soon as it was available in March and while we initially got a lot of interest, the demand for the vaccine dropped away when the bad publicity came out. There was little interest in the community, people were frightened and saw the risk as being very high,” Dr Hunt said.

Fitzroy AMS began its Pfizer roll out June 9 and has administered 556 doses, with 1,111 Indigenous people having been vaccinated as of last week.  

While the VAHS was tracking well, Dr Hunt acknowledged that they still have a long way to go in keeping the Indigenous community safe.

“We’re vaccinating a few hundred people a week, but it will take a while. I believe we will be vaccinating people for a few months, but we have made a good start.

“What we have noticed is that we are getting very booked up, with this increase in demand we have some strain on our resources,” she said. 

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