Aboriginal health sector overcoming major challenges to deliver first Covid vaccine jabs | Indigenous Australians

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Aboriginal community health services across Australia have overcome major challenges including floods and wild weather to deliver their first Covid-19 vaccines to Aboriginal elders.

New South Wales floods have disrupted the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine to some parts of the state, but Dr Tim Senior, from Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation’s medical service in western Sydney, said they were relieved to get their supply as planned on Thursday.

“A few general practitioners have been expecting deliveries since last Thursday and have yet to receive the vaccine, causing a real problem as patients had to be rebooked,” Senior said.

Monday marked the start of the next phase of Australia’s vaccine rollout with six million higher-risk Australians becoming eligible including Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders aged over 55.

Appointments at Tharawal’s clinic to receive the first vaccinations were booked out in under an hour. They’re expecting to receive another 100 vials next week.

Tharawal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington receives his first AstraZeneca vaccine from Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation GP Heather MacKenzie.
Tharawal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington receives his first AstraZeneca vaccine from Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation GP Heather MacKenzie. Photograph: Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation

“Our elders are our leaders and during the pandemic they continue to show us the way forward by proudly getting vaccinated first,” Dr Heather Mackenzie, from Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation, said.

Tharawal, which is using an SMS booking system for patients and has held community meetings and sessions with doctors, has received a “great response from the community”, Senior said.

The Aboriginal health sector has plenty of experience delivering large-scale vaccination programs before Covid-19 to control diseases introduced since colonisation.

“Aboriginal communities have been managing imported clinical diseases since colonisation and these diseases are one of the lasting legacies of colonisation itself,” Senior said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the highest rate of immunisation among the Australian population, according to National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) medical advisor, Dr Jason Agostino.

“The Aboriginal health sector is extremely equipped in delivering large-scale immunisation programs and has been working hard to support communities during the pandemic,” Agostino, who is based in Yarrabah in far-north Queensland, said.

NACCHO represents more than 100 health organisations covering more than 300 communities.

A health worker checks the temperature of a patient
The Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern has begun rolling out phase 1b of the Covid-19 vaccine program safely to the Aboriginal community. Photograph: Isabella Moore

In the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal health sector “led the charge in shutting down communities to prevent the spread and has maintained a high level of awareness from the beginning,” Olga Havnen, CEO of Darwin based Danila Dilba Health Service (DDHS), said.

The Darwin clinic will roll out vaccinations in April.

“There will be between 25,000 and 28,000 vaccinations delivered to communities which is extraordinary for one organisation,” Havnen said.

However, she was in talks with government agencies to help “source additional air-conditioned clinics in more remote communities to manage the flow of patients safely and comfortably”.

The high mobility of the Aboriginal population across the Top End and between remote communities has also had to be factored into planning, Havnen said, to make sure people get their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Havnen said Danila Dilba’s plan to reach people involved the primary health care sector, telehealth, transport services for patients and pharmacy drop-offs.

She said it was also crucial that people remember to get their flu vaccinations as well, as they are just as important in keeping the community safe.

In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the local Aboriginal Medical Service has focussed on getting the message out on the vaccine rollout and countering anti-vaccination myths circulating on social media.

“There has been an enormous amount of time put into pre-vaccination communications with the community,” Lorraine Anderson, medical director for Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), said.

Registered nurse and midwife, Matthew Shields, ready for Phase 1B of the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout to the Aboriginal community at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern. Isabella Moore for The Guardian.
Registered nurse and midwife, Matthew Shields, ready for phase 1b of the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout to the at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern. Photograph: Isabella Moore

Over the last six weeks “KAMS has been sitting down and having open and respectful talks with community and providing vaccine information in language”.

“All the way through the pandemic, NACCHO has been very organised and very clear on outcomes and is very confident with what they have achieved,” Anderson said.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Aboriginal health sector overcoming major challenges to deliver first Covid vaccine jabs | Indigenous Australians

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