• Despite the higher health risks, the national Indigenous vaccine rates are sitting well behind the general population. (KIMBERLEY ABORIGINAL MEDICAL SERVICES)Source: KIMBERLEY ABORIGINAL MEDICAL SERVICES
Around 150,000 First Nations people have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. Head of NACCHO, Pat Turner, and epidemiologist, Dr Stephanie Davis, explain why many more are needed.
Shahni Wellington

12 Aug 2021 - 8:11 AM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2021 - 8:14 AM

As country and state leaders set their sites on vaccination goals to lift current COVID-19 restrictions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being urged to bolster the efforts and protect our communities. 

It comes as a person in Walgett tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, and towns with high populations of Indigenous people, including Dubbo, Bourke and Gilgandra are in lockdown. 

On the frontline of the call to action is Gurdanji-Arrernte woman and head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Pat Turner OAM. 

Despite being in a high-risk category, Ms Turner described the process of receiving two doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine as uneventful.

"I had no reaction apart from a very sore arm and a bit of a headache," she told NITV's The Point.

"I went home, took a panadol, went to bed - I woke up fine."

Community leaders urge Western Sydney to get vaccinated as COVID-19 spreads
Health professionals say confusion and misinformation are to blame for the widespread vaccine reluctance amongst Western Sydney’s Indigenous communities.

As of August 10th, about 150,000 First Nations people have received a dose of a COVID vaccine – Equating to 27.9% of our population.

75,000 have been fully vaccinated, which is 13.6% of our people, figures that are well behind the wider population.

It's a major concern for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHO) across the country, that have recently ordered 197, 246 doses of both the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca.

Ms Turner wants First Nations peoples to take advantage of the supply.

"Don't listen to all the myths, listen to the medical advice, listen to our health services," she said.

"Speak to the doctors if you have any concerns, but be rest assured you will have 99.9% protection if you get vaccinated against getting seriously ill and hospitalised,"

"The important thing is that COVID is such a dangerous virus and to avoid getting really ill and ending up in hospital seriously ill and possibly dying, - You must get vaccinated," Ms Turner said.

Your questions answered

The reassurances and calls for more vaccinations from NACCHO have also been echoed by the commonwealth health body.

Epidemiologist and Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Department of Health, Dr Stephanie Davis, has heard the concerns over the vaccines safety.

Having worked on vaccination rollouts in the Goldfields, Pilbara and remote Northern Territory, Dr Davis specialises in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wants to reassure First Nations people of the facts.

Speaking to NITV News, Dr Davis answered some of the questions mob may have about being vaccinated.

Victoria sees First Nations vaccine success with Pfizer rollout
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.

Do I really need to get a vaccine? 

"We know COVID-19 can cause people to end up in hospital even to pass away, and we know that that risk is greater for a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who might have other health conditions and stuff that makes them more likely to get really sick," Dr Davis said.

While it's important to be vaccinated for your own safety, health experts are adamant it's just as important to protect others around you.

"So it decreases your risk of getting sick, and it also decreases your chance of passing it on to someone else you love, like your mum and your aunties and uncles, and all those other people you love who around you." 

Doesn't it take a long time to make a vaccine? Is it safe?

People may be hesitant about how quickly the vaccine became available. Dr Davis put the rapidness down to two main things: Money and data.

According to world health data, COVID-19 has recorded more than 200 million cases globally, and more than 4.3 million deaths. Because of the major, widespread implications of the pandemic, scientists were able to fund research and collect vaccine data from the disease worldwide. 

"Even though the vaccines are pretty new, they still have gone through a really rigorous safety process," Dr Davis said.

"In Australia, they go through the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and they look at all the data from the trials of the vaccines," 

"We've also got another overlay of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation - So these guys are experts in immunisation, and they look at all the data around the vaccines, and they decide who should be targeted in the vaccine campaigns and who should be made eligible and in what order, and all that kind of thing," she said.

"In summary, these are safe vaccines that have gone through a lot of testing."

Where do I go for trusted information?  

The internet has become an infinite resource on COVID-19 messaging, making it hard to tell which information can be trusted. Dr Davis recommends people to be wary of what they see on places like "Facebook and WhatsApp."

"Now on the Department of Health website, they've got a whole bunch of resources, including videos and radio grabs, things in traditional languages, specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So I'd encourage people to have a look at that," she said.

It isn't uncommon, due to a range of lived experiences, for mob to have a level of mistrust when it comes to government bodies.

Dr Davis recognises these concerns, and told NITV News that trusted community health professionals are ready to answer your questions too.

"Sometimes that's not right for everybody so the other place I'd really direct people to is go and talk to their GP, and the Aboriginal controlled health organisation, if that's who they see."

"Go and talk to the health workers there, the doctors or the nurses there - They'll be able to provide you with that assurance, and know your health really well and be able to give you the best advice around vaccination," Dr Davis said.

Indigenous children and those with underlying medical conditions can now get the Pfizer vaccine
Indigenous, immunocompromised and other vulnerable children as young as 12 will be given priority access to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.