Menang Noongar elders, police in push to protect Great Southern Aboriginal community amid alarming vax rates
Menang elders, community health services and police are encouraging the region’s First Nations people to protect themselves against COVID-19 before the State opens up with fresh statistics sounding the alarm about Indigenous vaccination rates.
Figures released by the Federal Government this week showed that the City of Albany’s first dose vaccination rate was nearing 90 per cent, with the fully vaccinated rate at nearly 75 per cent.
But in trends seen across the State, the city’s Indigenous vaccination rate was lagging far behind at 54.6 per cent and 40.3 per cent as of Tuesday.
Menang Noongar elder Carol Pettersen has urged her community to roll up their sleeves “for the sake of our children”.
“Please, please for the sake of our children and our future generations get vaccinated,” she said.
“Don’t listen to rumours, listen to the science.
“When I got my second one I just felt so powerful ... that I was free, that I wasn’t living in fear.
“It is a preventative measure, it is a protection against a deadly disease. It is important that we get protected.”
Fellow Menang Noongar elder and Albany Aboriginal Corporation chairman Lester Coyne said it was crucial for First Nations people to get vaccinated before the borders opened.
He urged anyone who might be feeling hesitant for any reason to seek qualified advice from their GP.
“This is a very dangerous virus that is getting around and you can’t see it,” he said.
“So having a vaccination is important to ward it off and protect yourself and to protect other people.
“We have big family groups, we are very family-orientated people, so we are going to be mixing all the time — if you’ve got it, they will all get it.
“It’s just like dropping dye in water, it has the potential to spread. So we need to protect against that.”
The lagging Indigenous vaccination rate has prompted Great Southern Police Acting Supt Glenn Spencer to throw his weight behind the local Aboriginal health service in encouraging the community to get the jab.
“The goal is to significantly boost those first vaccination rates for Aboriginal people by Christmas and that is to ensure we keep their culture safe and strong,” he said.
“One death is too many from COVID.
“What we are doing is liaising with the Aboriginal community for ideas about what are the barriers to people getting vaccinated, what would enable people to get vaccinated and making sure the information and opportunities are there for people to get vaccinated.
“What we are hearing from the Aboriginal community is there is some fear about the needle, so we are driving information through the Aboriginal community health service about the realities of the vaccine and the success rate.
“Sometimes we are even going door-to-door in small communities just to deliver that vaccine to people who can’t get out there or arranging events.
“We are listening to the Aboriginal community and they are driving the initiatives.”
It comes after the State Government launched a five-week push on Monday to boost vaccination rates among WA’s Aboriginal population by intensifying programs to bring the vaccine directly to communities.
The Keeping Culture Safe and Strong: Vaccination Focus’ community-led campaign is happening across WA in support of the Commonwealth Government’s vaccine roll-out.
Southern Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Asha Bhat said more government support was needed for Aboriginal organisations to deliver messaging and vaccinations to the community.
“There is a massive gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in terms of life expectancy and it is important that Aboriginal communities are not exposed to the COVID virus,” she said.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to protect First Nations people.”
Menang Noongar woman Francine Eades, who is WA Health’s Aboriginal Health lead, said the department was collaborating with the GSAH and elders across the region to provide more vaccination opportunities
“While the vaccination rates for Aboriginal people in Western Australia are increasing, they still remain behind the general population, we have a responsibility to protect and safeguard our Aboriginal people and communities, so they can remain safe and strong,” Ms Eades said.
“Increasing vaccination rates amongst Aboriginal communities is of the utmost importance and has been a key area of focus for the WA Vaccine Program.”
Walk-in vaccination appointments are open at the old Bunnings site from 9am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturdays and 9am to 6pm on Thursdays.
Vaccinations are available at the WACHS Great Southern Aboriginal Health Service on Serpentine Road.
Walk-in clinics are open at GSAH from 9am to 12.30pm on Monday and Tuesday and 10am to 2pm on Thursday, with home visits available on Wednesdays and Fridays.
To book at the GSAH, call 9892 7222.
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