The lagging vaccination rates of one group could be a major cause of concern this Christmas, as the rest of Australia reopens.
Australian doctors are warning scores of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could die in the wake of Christmas if governments don’t rapidly ramp up lagging vaccination rates.
While currently 80.6 per cent of all Australians aged over 16 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and 89.4 per cent have had at least one dose, only 54.5 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had both jabs, and 66.2 per cent have had one.
The gap in vaccination coverage is more drastic in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, where there is no Covid-19 in the wider community.
And, with Christmas approaching and states preparing to open their borders once again to NSW, Victoria and the ACT, Australian GPs are concerned the virus will seek out indigenous communities with potentially deadly ramifications.
Professor Peter O’Mara from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said ramping up vaccination rates needed to be a “critical” focus for state and territory governments as well as the Commonwealth before Christmas.
“As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already face considerable health inequities and higher rates of chronic disease they are more at risk of severe illness and death from the virus,” Professor O’Mara said.
“The fact that there remains a serious gap in vaccine coverage between (Indigenous) and non-Indigenous people in our country is a national shame.
“We urgently need to ramp up vaccine access and education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
Professor O’Mara said there had already been “devastating” outbreaks in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the eastern states – most notably in Wilcannia in western NSW.
“In only the past three months there have been more than 7000 cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with over 700 people hospitlased, including 80 ICU admissions and 16 deaths in NSW, Victoria and the ACT,” Professor O’Mara said.
“As we move to enjoying more freedoms, it’s critical that we do more to achieve high rates of vaccination among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country – we cannot leave anyone behind.”
Last month, the government’s vaccination commander conceded there was “no timeline” to getting vaccination rates up to 80 per cent, with projections predicting that would not happen until early 2022.
Lieutenant General John Frewen told the senate select committee on Covid-19 last month that while closing the gap was his primary concern, there were three distinct challenges hindering the effort.
“One is hesitancy, two is misinformation, and three is issues around complacency,” he said at the time.
“There are a whole range of reasons that can underpin hesitancy, some are very legitimate. In terms of misinformation, there is some very hard-to-counter information which can be of a religious nature. It can bring into question whether vaccines will have a detrimental effect on the reproductive system and even stories around vaccines negating indigeneity.
“These are very difficult to counter.”