• Jessica Skinner has been trying to get a vaccination booking for her family for a fortnight. (Supplied: Jessica Skinner)Source: Supplied: Jessica Skinner
Barkindji woman Jessica Skinner speaks of her attempts to get vaccinated, warn others and stay safe, as the western NSW outbreak grows.
Jodan Perry

16 Aug 2021 - 10:40 AM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2021 - 2:53 PM

Jessica Skinner has been watching the situation unfold in western New South Wales closely.  

The Barkindji and Maori woman is from Trangie, 74 kilometres northwest of Dubbo, and is a head teacher at the local school, and a single mother of two.  

There are now dozens of cases in the western district, with signs it has spread beyond Dubbo and Walgett, according to sewage testing, and growing every day. 

A child was hospitalised in Dubbo, but has since been released. 

Jessica said her oldest child, 10-year-old Tawhiao, understands what is going on, but his sibling Naia, 8 is too young. 

“There’s a little bit of anxiety there for him about, what he's seeing and hearing and how quickly everything changes,” she said. 

“But it's more just probably he's worried about if something happened to his grandparents. 

“It does impact our young people when we think it doesn’t.” 

Most of Dubbo’s cases are Aboriginal people, and many are children. 

But Jessica has tried to shield her young family from the anxieties of the outbreak; diverting them away from watching too much news on television and instead reading only trusted information on the smartphone. 

She says overall, the family is healthy. 

“We've got fresh air and a yard that they can play in and technology's really good. They can still connect with their friends at school and their teachers.” 

Jessica wants it to stay that way.  

Booking vaccine 'a nightmare'

She’s been actively trying to get her parents and herself vaccinated in the region for a fortnight.  

But it’s been “really difficult”. 

Rather than real people, she’s negotiating with voicemail machines in the vaccination hubs and hospitals. 

“I'm trying to navigate the online COVID system and it directs me to Sydney - it doesn't direct me anywhere close to where I live,” she said. 

“People are trying to do what the government saying and it's just difficult to navigate that.” 

She was eventually able to register for a vaccine on September 2nd in the nearby town of Narromine. While eligible for both AstraZeneca and Pfizer, she said she will take either. 

“I just said whatever the next date is, get me in.” 

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She was able to book her parents in as well, later this month - but that took a bit of talking. 

“From my parents there was a lack of education around it, a bit of fear around the vaccination,” she said. 

“Sitting with them and having that yarn about the pros and cons, they were like ‘righto well we should just get it’, I said yes it’s going to help. 

“Then trying to get them into something [booking], it was just a nightmare.” 

Not everyone is able to travel to nearby towns for vaccination however. 

“Some of our mob don’t have vehicles to drive … Some of our people don’t have that privilege to try and chase these vaccinations in other communities, because they forget about little ones like Trangie.” 

A lot of unknown

Trangie had a population of 1118 when last measured by the census in 2016. More than 20 percent of residents are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. 

Like many small regional towns, resources are limited. 

Jessica is fearful of what would happen should COVID reach the community. 

“We’ve got one doctor here and our medical centre is attached to the old people’s home. We don’t have the healthcare facility if this was to get out of control.” 

She has been in contact with local health services and has heard the communication with the bigger cities about the vaccines is vague.   

“They don’t actually get notifications of when something's coming in. They did have the AstraZeneca come a few months ago, but they had two days’ notice and the message didn't get out there. So some of our people didn't get vaccinated,” she said.  

“The local pharmacy has registered to become a vaccination hub and they said we just don’t know anything there’s no communication, we can’t take bookings we don’t know if we are even going to get it. 

“There’s just a lot of unknown, which is probably what contributes to people feeling a little bit scared.” 

Having those chats

She worries about how families who don’t have access to technology and the internet will keep updated with the virus’ spread. 

“Some of our people don't have the internet and don't have access to that,” she said. 

“That's a disadvantage. So trying to reach them as well,  and keeping them in the loop, especially our old people, (is important).” 

"You need Blackfullas in community talking about the vaccination and sitting down having those chats.  

“We need to educate our people on the ground that it's okay to get those vaccinations. 

"It’s going to grow real quick and I am fearful of what that looks like.” 

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