Labor Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith calls on Prime Minister to protect Indigenous communities

VACCINATION: Labor Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith says more need to be done to increase the rates of Indigenous COVID-19 vaccinations across the state. Photo: Shutterstock
VACCINATION: Labor Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith says more need to be done to increase the rates of Indigenous COVID-19 vaccinations across the state. Photo: Shutterstock

A South Australian Senator is concerned First Nations communities are being left exposed to the risk of COVID-19, as the rates of vaccination lag behind the general population.

Indigenous Australians were included in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, however the vaccination rate in South Australia is up to half of that of whole of population eligible to receive their jab.

Data has revealed the rate of full vaccination of First Nations people in outback South Australia, which includes Ceduna and Port Lincoln, was just 15.62 per cent as of August 30, half of the whole of the local population average of 30.3 per cent, as of August 29.

In the Barossa, Yorke Peninsula and Mid North areas, the rate of Indigenous vaccination was 18.66 per cent, compared to 33.4 per cent of the whole of the local population average, while in the South East the number was 17.13 per cent, compared to 32 per cent.

Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith said First Nations Australians were supposed to be vaccinated by winter, but the rates were lagging "well behind the national rollout".

She said the situation in New South Wales town Wilcannia should serve as a warning, as should the recent scare involving COVID-positive truck drivers stopping in Port Augusta, Ceduna and Nundroo.

"The consequences of the failure to vaccinate First Nations communities are clear," Ms Smith said.

"COVID-19 poses a serious risk to these communities and in Wilcannia, approximately 10 per cent of the largely Indigenous population has been infected in what is quickly becoming a crisis.

"The recent news of COVID-19 positive truck drivers transiting through Ceduna and Port Augusta should be a further wake-up call for the Prime Minister."

An SA Health spokesperson said it had been working closely with Local Health Networks and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine to Indigenous Australians.

They said in addition to making the vaccine available through clinics, SA Health was also working with Nganampa Health Council, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the federal government to make the vaccine more accessible for those in regional and remote communities.

"Our work with NGOs (non-government organisations), Aboriginal Health Clinics and community leaders to provide community education and information has helped to enable significant support of the vaccination program within communities," the spokesperson said.

"We have also launched an Aboriginal specific vaccination campaign, featuring well-known Aboriginal community leaders and members rolling up their sleeves."

The spokesperson said the increased supplies of the Pfizer vaccine would help deliver further vaccinations to communities in the coming weeks.

Ms Smith said communities such as Ceduna had large First Nations populations and serviced several remote Indigenous communities which were being left exposed by their low vaccination rates.

She has called on the Prime Minister to move swiftly to protect First Nations communities.

"Outbreaks in these communities could be devastating and long-lasting," Ms Smith said.

"Scott Morrison needs to outline the plan for South Australian First Nations communities, so we don't have a repeat of the crisis in western New South Wales.

"Scott Morrison promised First Nations Australians would be vaccinated by winter and he's failed to deliver yet again."

The Department of Health said Operation COVID Shield was working with the state government and Indigenous stakeholders to further accelerate the vaccine rollout to Indigenous people and remote communities in South Australia.

A spokesperson said there were 11 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services administering COVID vaccines in South Australia, and they had received 3240 Pfizer vaccines and 4320 AstraZeneca vaccines to date.

"Operation COVID Shield is significantly increasing supply to ACCHS nationally to vaccinate their communities," they said.

"In South Australia a further 3120 vaccines are currently available to ACCHS in September."

Nationally, just over 20 per cent of the Indigenous population aged 16 and over has been fully vaccinated, while 40 per cent have received their first dose.

In some remote communities, rates are as low as seven per cent.

Australia has fully vaccinated 39 per cent of the wider population, while 63.8 per cent have received one dose.

In a bid to combat the low rates, up to 30 Indigenous communities across Australia could receive a rapid surge in COVID-19 vaccinations as part of a bid to drive up poor immunisation rates.

Vaccine rollout coordinator John Frewen last week presented a plan to accelerate Indigenous vaccinations at a meeting of state and territory leaders.

Senior Aboriginal leader Pat Turner and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation's Dawn Spence also worked on the plan.

The Prime Minister said last week there were no simple solutions.

"In Indigenous communities, it's really tough but we're committed to achieving it."

Ms Smith said outbreaks in First Nations communities across the state "would be absolutely devastating".