Aboriginal Communities on Alert As COVID-19 Spreads into Outback Australia
By Phil Mercer August 19, 2021
Australia's delta variant outbreak is spreading into Outback areas, where the vast majority of new infections are among aboriginal people. In western New South Wales, 60% of cases are in Indigenous communities, where vaccination rates are low and vaccine hesitancy is high.
There are COVID-19 health campaigns in various Australian aboriginal languages, but in western New South Wales state, fewer than 10% of First Nation people are fully vaccinated, well below the national average.
Health officials have said that vaccine hesitancy has been promoted by misinformation online and concerns about possible side-effects of the AstraZeneca drug.
Indigenous elder Frank Doolan told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he has watched as the virus has spread through Dubbo, a New South Wales city 400 kilometers northwest of Sydney.
"I can't even contemplate catching COVID, really. I kind of think if that happens in that regard, then I'm dead," he said.
The community's fears about the spread of the virus are shared by Dubbo Mayor Stephen Lawrence.
"We always knew that our aboriginal community was going to be especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and especially hard to reach, in terms of vaccination, and look, that has certainly turned out to be the case," he said.
The Australian government says Indigenous people in remote areas remain a priority for vaccines, and that the military will be deployed to help in the inoculation program. However, this outbreak of the delta variant is now threatening communities already hit by chronic illnesses, including diabetes, as well as lung and heart disease.
Indigenous Australians make up 3.3% of the national population, according to official figures.
Australia has recorded about 40,000 coronavirus cases and 970 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Authorities said Thursday that more than half of Australians aged over 16 have now had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Twenty-eight percent are fully inoculated.
Millions of Australians are in lockdown, including residents in the nation's two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the national capital, Canberra.
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