Australia has been urged to dramatically boost Indigenous COVID-19 vaccination coverage, with a leading human rights group warning of an impending disaster.
Coronavirus has seeped from Sydney to regional NSW including towns with high Aboriginal populations where Indigenous people are being infected.
Australia-wide, almost 31 per cent of Indigenous people over 16 have received one vaccine dose, while 16 per cent are fully vaccinated.
That lags behind population-wide figures of 50 per cent for a first dose and 28.2 per cent with two jabs.
Human Rights Watch Australia researcher Sophie McNeill is concerned lessons about vulnerable populations are not being heeded.
“The federal government and New South Wales authorities left First Nations people dangerously exposed to COVID-19 with limited access to vaccines,” she said on Friday.
“Australia’s federal, state, and territory governments should not repeat the failings in NSW and should urgently improve vaccine access and health care for Indigenous communities.”
Indigenous Australians were made a high-priority group in the nation’s vaccine rollout, which is well behind schedule.
The federal government has pointed to pockets of vaccine hesitancy among some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people while also acknowledging efforts should be increased.
Military and medical emergency teams have been dispatched to western NSW to increase jab rates.
Labor’s Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Linda Burney said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had failed to supply communities with vaccines.
“Aboriginal communities right across this country are sitting ducks and we’re seeing that unfold in slow motion in the western division of New South Wales,” she told reporters in Sydney.
Ms Burney said in some large communities people were waiting at least 13 days for a jab because of availability.
“We can’t play whack-a-mole with this thing, sending in the army when there’s an emergency – we have to get ahead of that emergency,” she said.
The opposition is calling for a national plan which would put Aboriginal health services in charge of the Indigenous rollout and improve warnings about the potential dire impacts of the virus.
Australian Council of Social Service chief Cassandra Goldie believes vulnerable populations may need higher vaccination coverage than 80 per cent to be protected.
“People of diverse backgrounds, First Nations communities and people with disability are some of those most at risk of the virus and being left behind in the vaccination rollout,” she said.
Dr Goldie said up-to-date weekly data was needed to show local vaccination rates and population groups including Indigenous people, country of birth, language spoken at home and disability.