Critique of slowing Indigenous vaccination program as border reopens nearer

A Hughenden community leader says Queensland Health needs to do a better job of rolling out COVID-19 vaccination to indigenous people in the district.

Kelly Carter, county councilor and secretary for Yumba Housing Community Co-op, said immunization rates need to improve.

“In my opinion, this is not very good at all, unfortunately, [Queensland Health] simply leaving it to the indigenous peoples themselves to do it themselves, ”she said.

“We have a passing crowd coming back from Townsville or Woorabinda. It’s pretty hard to capture them.”

Ms Carter said a local indigenous health worker, who was in training, had hoped for greater involvement from Queensland Health and indigenous-specific outreach programs.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service (HHS) General Manager Kieran Keyes said the service has run seven 16-day clinics in Hughenden since April, with the next vaccination clinics scheduled for December 1 and 2. .

“Recently, we have recruited more Aboriginal health liaison officers to be present in some of the contextual and outreach immunization clinics,” said Mr. Keyes.

Townsville Hospital and Health Department General Manager Kieran Keyes said field hospitals in the area were as prepared as those in Townsville for any COVID cases.(Facebook: Townsville Hospital and Health Department)

He added that Townsville HHS has engaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccinators to make sure the clinics are more culturally welcoming.

Vaccination rates vary

While Hughenden’s first dose rate is above average at 86%, residents of other parts of the Queensland council have been less willing to take the vaccine.

Country towns in North Queensland vary widely in their rates – with a few key differences within communities based on origin.

In the HHS Townsville area, the vaccination rate for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is 61.4% for the first dose, a 5.4% jump from the previous week.

Hughenden Multipurpose Health Service Director Karen Petrie said reaching indigenous populations with the vaccine was a concern, but progress was being made.

“They just want to know on their own terms and we’ve dispelled some of these vaccine myths.”

nurse in hospital
Nursing Director Karen Petrie says progress has been made in reaching the Indigenous community of Flinders Shire by dispelling some rumors and myths.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Mr Keyes said Flinders and Hinchinbrook counties generally did well for the first and second dose rates, but some groups were missing out.

“The only common factor is that older Australians were vaccinated first, it was the younger generations who were slower to do so,” he said.

COVID Project Nursing Director Debbie Maclean said the service has prioritized working with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.

“We need to let communities use their normal mechanism to support their health services,” she said.

“They have had difficult conversations about reluctance and often it just takes time to fix it, give them space and time to think about their decision and they will come forward.”

Disconnect from the COVID threat

Ms Kelly said the long-term effects of COVID-19 were concerning and she believed residents were putting their heads in the sand because of the pandemic.

She said more plain language information was needed for the community.

“In the world of white men, information is out there, but unfortunately indigenous people don’t understand it, you have to speak in their terms,” she said.

“The information is out there, but they don’t understand the long-term effects on them if they don’t get it.” [the vaccine] ended.”

Just before COVID-19 hit Australia in 2020, Ms Kelly organized a flu vaccination campaign that included a bus to pick up community members and go to a clinic.

Country hospitals ready

Mr Keyes said preparations for any COVID outbreak have been made with negative pressure rooms and COVID patient transport plans prepared for all regional departments.

But the administrator said it was important for the general public to understand that the risk of serious effects was low.

“Most people if they are infected will actually have a mild illness and will not need hospital care, but we have the infrastructure if necessary,” he said.

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