Statement for Oz-Sage Conference 8th of November 2021 –
Dr. Kalinda Griffiths
Before we begin today, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the many lands of which we are meeting. I am coming to you from Larrakia Country in Darwin, upon which lands sovereignty was never ceded, and pay my respects to all elders those of the past, present and the future.
My name is Dr Kalinda Griffiths and I am epidemiologist at the Centre for Big Data Research in Health at the University of New South Wales. I am a Yawuru woman, my family name is Corpus, and my county is in Broome in Western Australia.
To date there have now been over 7000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID19 cases. Most of these cases have been in NSW with almost 6000 cases, almost 1000 cases have occurred in Victoria and 200 cases have been reported in the ACT.
It is a primary remit of the OzSAGE group that no one is left behind. But as Australia begins to open up it has become apparent that there are people in the population who are missing out.
It has been the recommendation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander OzSAGE working group that 95 to 100% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 12 years need to be fully vaccinated before states and territories opens up.
Currently, 64% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 12 years have received at least one dose. 51% are fully vaccinated. Still about 20% lower than non-Indigenous people.
In those states that have been impacted the most we have seen higher rates of vaccination than other jurisdictions with NSW now at 74%, Victoria at 70% and the ACT at 81% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fully vaccinated.
The most recent reporting shows that there had been over 700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cases hospitalised with 81 people that have been admitted to ICU. 14 Aboriginal people have died, all in NSW.
COVID is a disease of the unvaccinated, so if it gets into regions and communities with lower vaccination rates and higher risk of transmission, it will spread very fast. In NSW particularly we have witnessed some of the impact that can occur and know there are devastating consequences due to this disease continuing to spread, particularly through regional and remote Australia. With already stretched health care services and limited workforce availability to manage COVID patients in those regions, it is anticipated that things can, and will, get much worse.
This highlights the need to reassess how we respond to outbreaks in Australia. It is apparent that there is a need to better support public health orders. Through better infrastructure, taking up evidence-based approaches known to work in regional and remote areas, as well as appropriate governance that ensures the priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are actioned.
With the lower vaccination rates and greater impact from COVID, it is therefore very important that attention, resources and innovative approaches to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. Particularly to those services already doing the hard yards. Governments must support medical experts, Aboriginal Medical Services, communities and those people working on the ground to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the things that they need to protect themselves and each other. To ensure that non one is left behind.
In order to assess the needs of different communities and different regions, there is a requirement for information on service availability and impact. Despite the recommendations and ongoing call for accurate and appropriate data, there is still a clear need to improve the transparency, quality, as well as the availability of disaggregated data. That is data that is broken down and displayed by population group and regions. These data are important because it lets us know who needs what, where.
There are still many people in the general population who are not vaccinated and an even higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unvaccinated which means this matter is urgent. We recommend that there is an assessment of each jurisdiction in the decision making regarding the approach taken to support those populations at higher risk and how this impacts outbreaks. At this point it should also include the plan for providing boosters shots to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We recommend that the publication of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccination rates is presented by state and territory Local Government Areas is released more frequently. The purpose of the document is to provide information to those who can help. Without up to date information, this help is lagging.
We also encourage those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so. Any concerns regarding the vaccinations can be discussed with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service or health provider.
As states and territories move towards more relaxed restrictions and Australia plans on opening up everyone needs to know that there are people being left behind. There is a responsibility of governments and individuals to support and protect those priority populations that need additional assistance to ensure equity within this nation.
No one left behind.