• Yarrabah clinicians are growing increasingly concerned over a vaccination gap between First Nations peoples and the general population. (AAP)Source: AAP
A remote clinician is urging the federal government to do better after just a dozen people turned up to a community vaccination drive.
By
Sarah Collard

Source:
NITV News
30 Sep 2021 - 5:11 PM  UPDATED 30 Sep 2021 - 5:11 PM

Yarrabah is a small, tight-knit community in Far North Queensland that sits just outside the bustling tourist hub of Cairns, less than 50 kilometres away. 

It's a proximity that is worrying Yued Noongar man Dr Jason King, who leads the clinical team at community-run health service Gurriny Yealamucka.

Latest figures from the clinic show about 25 per cent of the community's almost 3,000 residents are fully vaccinated, but Dr King says that number needs to go much higher as various states prepare to lift restrictions. 

Commonwealth vaccine blitz risks 'falling flat' 

Dr King told NITV News an 'acceleration' effort led by the federal government has failed to properly engage with the community.

"First thing I had heard about it was Monday afternoon at about 3:30pm - and they they were arriving the next day," he said.

"We had to scramble early on Tuesday morning to figure out what was going on." 

 

He said he immediately contacted them to get a better understanding of the plan and organise logistics, but on the day only 12 people turned up. 

Dr King said it was unsurprising that the efforts fell short despite the best intentions of all involved. 

"They had modest targets of 500 (jabs) over three days," he said.

"I'm all for optimistic goals and stretching yourself but the reality is that without any of that promotion that was going to be very difficult from the get go." 

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The experienced clinician, who has previously worked in WA's Kimberly region and Cairns, said understanding communities is critical to a vaccination drive. 

"I appreciate the urgency, (but they) really have the risk of falling flat, if they're not carried out with the appropriate level of consultation with communities," he said. 

Harmful messaging, 'rogue politicians' promoting hesitancy 

Dr King said there is ample supply of the vaccines including Pfizer and AstraZeneca, but that hesitancy continued to be an issue, exacerbated by 'deliberately' harmful messaging.

"These rogue politicians really need to think about what a damages (they) are going to be doing to the most vulnerable in society."

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He said community members including himself had received text messages by United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly advocating for a public probe into vaccinations. 

"They need to be held accountable for having carte blanche access to mobile numbers to just spread these kinds of incredibly malicious rumors and misrepresentation of statistics." 

Low rates threaten communities 

First Nations vaccination numbers currently trail national rates, with just 30 per cent of Indigenous people having received both doses, compared to a 53 per cent national rate. 

Dr King said as the country prepares to open up, Indigenous people risk being left behind and exposed to the virus.

"It knocks on our door in remote Far North Queensland and the response from communities in these times needs to be swift, it needs to be decisive and the communities need to respond by coming in and getting vaccinated." 

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He said fierce efforts are underway to encourage vaccination take-up, with health staff preparing to hit the streets in bid to drive up the numbers.

"We know the community. We're connected to the community we can go door to door with a team lead and local health workers to have genuine conversations with households."

Burney: 'It's not good enough' 

Labor MP and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has rebuked the government for 'failing' First Nations people. 

"This is completely unacceptable and the federal government has to take this seriously, be honest about it and get the vaccination rates up so they are equivalent," the Wiradjuri woman told NITV news. 

Ms Burney acknowledged the need for vaccinations to increase so states and territories can begin to open up as national vaccination rates reach 70 and 80 percent.

"But with the vaccination gap so broad between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community it must be addressed and it has to be urgent."