• The New South Wales town of Walgett has a large First Nations population (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Despite being prioritised in the rollout from March, it’s been revealed the majority of First Nations people in the state's west haven’t received a vaccine.
By
Jodan Perry

Source:
NITV News
12 Aug 2021 - 12:44 PM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2021 - 2:07 PM

Six new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Central Western New South Wales overnight as a number of communities with large Aboriginal populations remain in lockdown.

Health authorities announced five new cases of the virus in the regional hub of Dubbo, while a case in the Walgett area was revealed yesterday, that forced a number of local government areas into a snap lockdown.

Walgett, Dubbo, Narromine, Bogan, Bourke, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Brewarrina and Warren have strict stay-at-home orders enforced for at least one week.

"All of the communities are connected. And you need to get those vaccines and that service out there so that we can stop the spread.”

Health authorities say a man from Walgett tested positive for COVID-19 and visited Dubbo and Bathurst during his infectious period. It has been reported that the man was also present at the Bathurst Correctional Centre over the weekend, which forced the prison into lockdown.

The state recorded 345 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two men in their 90's died.

Walgett waiting on vaccines

Almost half of the population of the town of Walgett are First Nations people.

NSW Aboriginal Land Council chairperson Anne Dennis, who is from the town, said residents are doing their best to adapt to the unfolding situation and called for more assistance with vaccinations.

“I've spoken with families and talking that there was a waiting for Pfizer, for the vaccine. And getting families through to putting the pressure on the Aboriginal medical services there,” she said.

“And getting that information out there … we are connected to Lightning Ridge and Brewarrina, Coonamble. All of the communities are connected. And you need to get those vaccines and that service out there so that we can stop the spread.”

Elders group raises concerns

The Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett has urgently called for more trained nurses to help give vaccines and support the work of Aboriginal Medical Services.

It also called for accommodation options to help people isolate away from family, mobile testing and vaccine options, more masks, and resources and support for wellbeing checks.

"This is a very, very worrying time for our community," the group said in a statement.

"Many of our elders and others in Walgett experience health and social issues that make them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. The impact on our community could be devastating.

"We call on governments and others who are in a position to support us, to do all they can to help stop the spread of the virus."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said vaccines have been redirected to the state’s regional communities after they were initially pulled in to vaccinate year 12 students in Sydney in recent weeks.

“All of those vaccines are already being returned. So I want to assure communities that we are making available all the vaccines that we have available,” she said.

Ms Berejiklian was also pressed about the low rates of vaccination for our people in the regions, considering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were prioritised under phase 1B of the rollout from March.

“Yes, we have been looking at that, and of course those communities would have had access to vaccination earlier on, but we are making sure we have sufficient vaccine to provide those vulnerable communities,” she said.

When asked about resources for Western Aboriginal communities, State Health Minister Brad Hazzard put it on the Federal government, saying he has requested Commonwealth assistance, particularly for Walgett, due to the pressure on the town’s Aboriginal Medical Service.

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He said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told him he would “get onto it” and was hopeful that resources could be allocated to the region.

“The majority of Aboriginal people in that section of our state have not received the vaccine and, well, you would have to direct that the Federal Government but I have actually asked for help on that front,” he said.

“We have had limited supplies coming into New South Wales and that has created all sorts of work issues for us in terms of delivering vaccine, you can't deliver what we haven't got.

“In Walgett, there have been similar issues, and spoke to our most senior health officials late last night and they were talking about trying to get some access and reallocate if we can.”

Staying safe

Gamilaraay woman Anne Dennis said the unfolding situation caught the Walgett community off guard but she is hopeful residents can stay safe.

“I suppose it's kind of panicky and some members are quite frightened and scared. And again, putting the pressure on to the local Aboriginal medical services and also the local IGA in obtaining essential items,” she told ABC News.

“Our elders and community members are vulnerable. Health is not the best and again the concern is about side effects of vaccines and things like that.

“As Aboriginal leaders have been working, encouraging families to be vaccinated and social distancing, wearing the masks, washing hands for extended families and families staying together.

Dr Marianne Gale, who provided Thursday’s health update in place of Dr Kerry Chant, sent a message to those communities locked down.

“Come forward for a test if you have symptoms and of course please get vaccinated with any available vaccine as soon as you can,” she said.

NITV News is attempting to contact other Aboriginal communities in Western New South Wales.

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