• 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
The first figures publicly released by the federal government reveal a yawning divide in vaccination rates in cities and regional areas and significant lagging in some states, particularly Western Australia.
Sarah Collard, Karen Michelmore

2 Sep 2021 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2021 - 4:49 PM

Despite being prioritised back in February, new figures reveal the full extent of the gap in vaccination rates of First Nations people compared with the general population — with some parts of the country registering under 10 per cent. 

Nationwide, 60.5 per cent of the population over the age of 16 have had one dose, while 36.4 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

In comparison, just 37 per cent of First Nations people have had one jab, and 20.5 per cent both. 

New data released by the federal government also exposes a stark divide between Australia's towns and cities and regional and remote areas. 

In Darwin and surrounding regions, 23.52 per cent are fully vaccinated and 39.25 per cent are partially vaccinated. In the rest of the Northern Territory, 39.03 per cent are partially vaccinated and 22.56 are fully protected against the virus. 

In Adelaide’s north just 15.93 per cent have received both doses of the vaccine, only slightly higher than South Australia’s outback, where 15.62 per cent have been fully inoculated. 

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation's chief advisor Dr Jason Agostino said some of the figures are 'alarming'.

"You just need to look at what's happened far western NSW to understand what can happen when just a single case of COVID-19 gets in," he said.

"Without the protection of the vaccine, what's happening in western NSW and Far West NSW Wales can happen anywhere, so we need to do whatever we can to address vaccine hesitancy and get doses out and into people's arms."

WA has the lowest rates in the nation 

In Western Australia just 7.29 per cent of Indigenous people in the state's outback-north are fully vaccinated, while 16.15 per cent of the population have had one dose of the vaccine.

In WA's remote south, 9.59 per cent are fully vaccinated and 18.95 per cent are partially vaccinated.

Dr Jason Agostino said WA is a long way behind and has a lot of work to do, suggesting the tough border closures and complacency may have contributed to the low rates of vaccination.  

The epidemiologist told NITV News that health groups are also warning of harmful fringe religious groups sending out messaging against the vaccines. 

"There has been some really targeted misinformation in WA communities, particularly from religious communities targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, that's increased vaccine hesitancy," Dr Agostino said. 

Vaccine blitz doubles rates in NSW Far West 

With New South Wales currently in the grip of a deadly second wave of infections, a targeted vaccine blitz in the far west has lifted vaccination rates.

Figures show the region has recorded 47.41 per cent for one dose and 13.77 per cent for both doses in the Far West and Orana districts. 

"We've seen that more than double in three weeks time which is great... but we want to see that happen all across the country," Dr Agostino said. 

Victoria leads the nation 

In Victoria, which has experienced the most lockdowns of any state or territory, vaccinations among our communities are some of the best in the nation.

However it was also one of the first to get supplies of the vaccine. 

In Melbourne's Inner East figures revealed 88.64 per cent of Indigenous people have had one dose while 70 per cent are double dosed. 

"They were some of the first communities to get access to Pfizer. We want every place to get well above that 80 per cent into the 90s and 100 per cent," said Dr Agostino. 

But Shepparton in the state's north has the lowest vaccinations in the state for Indigenous people, with just 20.05 per cent fully vaccinated compared to 34.93 per cent partially vaccinated. 

Rumbalara Aboriginal Corporation based in Shepparton has been leading the push for vaccinations in the area and the CEO Shannon Drake said outreach has been critical in driving the numbers up. 

"We had a community meeting yesterday... to ensure that we can unpack any of the concerns that community had," Ms Drake said. 

"We want to get as many of the vulnerable vaccinated. There was that hesitancy at the start... we are putting modelling together, and by November we want to get to at least 80 per cent of the community vaccinated." 

On Tuesday, the federal minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt defended the vaccination rollout to First Nations people, and said the number of Indigenous people getting the jab was increasing.

“Our work on the number of vaccinations is increasing, we have 37% having had their first dose and 20.5% having had their second dose.

"So the numbers are increasing.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and so we will continue to focus on making sure people are vaccinated and safe,” he said.

Federal vaccine rollout slammed as COVID infects 275 Aboriginal people in Western NSW
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