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(AUSTRALIA) NSW Coronavirus Report: Each morning at 6am, Aboriginal health worker Zoe Duke starts work at the makeshift #COVID19 testing and vaccination hub on the outskirts of Moree in north-western New South Wales.

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#AceHealthReport – Nov.17: On busy days, she and her colleagues will work 12-hour shifts: I just love my community and I want to keep it safe,” she said: Until recently, the community had largely avoided the dreaded Delta strain as it snaked its way across the state: Then, around a month ago, COVID fragments were detected in the local sewage:

Urgent Help 🆘 we Need Help for our First Nations People 🆘

#AceDailyNews says according to ABC Health News Report: Says Why COVID-19 is infiltrating Indigenous communities: Two weeks on, there are more than 150 positive cases in Moree. Almost 97 per cent of cases are Aboriginal people, and a third are children, according to NSW Health.

Kindness & Love❤️ says get the jab and be protected God Bless Amen

A man gets a needle in his right arm.
Almost 97 per cent of people with COVID-19 in Moree are Aboriginal.(ABC News)

Once that first person got tested, and they tested positive — bang,” Ms Duke said: There was panic. Some didn’t believe it.”

A woman wearing a black top has a computer screen behind her.
Zoe Duke says there was panic in Moree when the first case of COVID-19 appeared.(ABC News)

Nursing manager Ros Rose from Pius X Aboriginal corporation said the outbreak had prompted some within the Aboriginal community to rethink their anti-vaccination stance.

“I’ve spoken to one of the patients that has had [COVID] and he said it’s the worst thing he’s ever had in his life. Unvaccinated. And he said if he had his time over again, he’d be vaccinated,” she said. 

But that sentiment is yet to be reflected in the data, with first dose rates rising by just 1.1 per cent among the organisation’s Aboriginal clients since COVID hit. Only around one in five are fully vaccinated.

An aerial view of a street in the town of Moree.
Around a month ago, COVID fragments were detected in the local sewage in Moree.(Supplied: Rabbit Hop Films)

“I remember the advertising for the AIDS programme — I mean, that put the fear of God into everybody and it worked,” Ms Rose said. 

“I think that’s a tactic we need to take because the younger population aren’t listening. 

“If the atmosphere doesn’t change … we’re going to have a death in Moree, and then all hell will break loose.”

‘A perfect storm’

A sign on a building says Moree District Health Service.
There are more than 150 cases of COVID in Moree.(ABC News)

The Moree outbreak is a microcosm of how COVID has disproportionately affected Indigenous communities across NSW. 

Indigenous people make up 8.3 per cent of COVID cases since June, despite representing just 3.4 per cent of the population, according to NSW Health.

Around half of Indigenous people infected in NSW were unvaccinated, while almost a third were children under 11 who were too young to get the jab. 

Kalinda Griffiths
Kalinda Griffiths says lower vaccination rates are just one reason Indigenous people are more at risk of COVID.(Supplied)

UNSW epidemiologist Kalinda Griffiths said there were multiple factors that put First Nations communities at higher risk during COVID outbreaks. 

“There’s a greater risk of transmission as well as having worse impact from COVID,” Dr Griffiths said. 

“This is due to the younger age distribution, higher rates of underlying conditions that can impact disease severity caused by COVID, as well as less access to services.

“Add on top of all that a lower rate of vaccination and what you have is a perfect storm.”

Queensland bracing for cases

A smiling woman wearing a black shirt
Kateena Poppy-Kyle says getting vaccinated for COVID-19 isn’t on the radar for some people in Queensland.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Aboriginal health groups in Queensland have been watching with trepidation as the virus has infiltrated regional NSW and forced parts of the Northern Territory into lockdown after nine Aboriginal people tested positive overnight

At the Moreton Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service in Brisbane’s north, vaccine bookings have been steadily filling up. 

“A lot of our patients have mob down in NSW, so seeing their family down there and seeing the community outbreak, a lot of them are getting [the vaccine],” said practice manager Kateena Poppy-Kyle. 

“We’re seeing about 20 or so people day to day.”

The Birri Gubba and Wakka Wakka woman said the main drivers behind the slow vaccine uptake were misinformation on social media and complacency. 

“I think the main thing with Queensland at the moment is that COVID isn’t crazy like in NSW, so it’s not really the first thing on people’s radar at the moment,” she said.

A sign on a wall says 'I stepped up for the jab'
Indigenous people account for 8.3 per cent of COVID-19 cases in NSW since June, despite representing just 3.4 per cent of the state’s population.(ABC News)

Adrian Carson, chief executive of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, has another theory. 

“There wasn’t any data available to support communities to kind of inform their choice about vaccination,” he said. 

“Lots of percentages were getting thrown around, plenty of politicians talking, but none of it cut through a lot of the misinformation that was out there, particularly on social media, to actually make the threat real to our communities.

“We’ve got examples where … the mob were actually more scared of the vaccine than what they were of COVID.”

Modelling predicts hundreds of deaths if vaccination rate remains low

A man wearing a grey shirt.
Adrian Carson is the head of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Mr Carson’s organisation commissioned its own modelling from OzSage, an independent network of experts from across the country, and the results were grim. 

The modelling, based on data from late October, predicts that in the event of a COVID outbreak in south-east Queensland, up to 461 Indigenous people could die over three months without lockdown measures.

More than 3,000 Indigenous people could be hospitalised. 

The higher the vaccination rate, the lower those figures become.

“At the moment, based on the current hit rate, we’re talking about getting to 60 per cent [fully vaccinated] by the 17th of December, which is nowhere near the 80 per cent the broader community will have,” Mr Carson said.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath speaking at a press conference
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath says the state government has been proactive in boosting Indigenous vaccination rates.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said she had travelled to several First Nations communities in recent weeks to counteract vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. 

She said the state government was working in partnership with cultural groups to lift vaccination rates. 

“This approach is delivering results, with Queensland Health administering 10,385 doses to First Nations Queenslanders in the last week compared to 2,000 the week before,” Ms D’Ath said. 

Mr Carson hopes the OzSage modelling will hit home for Indigenous Queenslanders — a third of whom live in urban areas in the state’s south-east — and prevent catastrophe when the border opens. 

“It was our belief that if we can get the information in the hands of the mob, if we could sit down and talk them through it, then people would make the decision — the vast majority — to be vaccinated, and that’s definitely been the experience [so far],” he said. 

“We don’t want to see what happened in NSW, where it wasn’t until people started to pass away, that we saw this huge uplift in vaccination rates. We want to see that demand now.”

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#AceHealthDesk report …………Published: Nov.17: 2021:

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