The Australian Department of Health has responded to allegations by NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy that poor communication by the Federal Government early in the pandemic is responsible for the low vaccination rates in many remote Aboriginal communities.
This comes on the back of comments the Labor senator made earlier in the week that she believes a communication misstep in the federal vaccination rollout allowed for misinformation from social media to overtake the government’s vaccination messaging.
“The vaccination, as we know, should have occurred earlier this year, and I put it down to a lot of communication or miscommunication across the country,” she told ABC News on Wednesday.
She explained that in February, she and the Australian Labor Party’s First Nation’s Caucus were briefed by the federal health department about the indigenous vaccine rollout, and she noted that she had to ask about a communication strategy for Indigenous Australian communities, given there are over 100 languages across the territory.
“That gap in that communication strategy…, I believe, has enabled the social media storm that we’ve seen with inaccurate information and messaging that has caused quite a fearful reaction to the vaccination,” she said.
The Epoch Times reached out to the Federal Department of Health (DOH) for comment on McCarthy’s allegations that indigenous resource material had not been adequately generated and distributed as part of the vaccination rollout strategy.
In an email response, the DOH said that since January 2021, they have been tailoring COVID-19 vaccine communication to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
This has included advertising tailored to indigenous audiences. For example, since February 2021, the DOH has distributed advertising in English and “up to 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island languages through both general and Indigenous-specific media including television, radio, print, digital, out-of-home, and social media.”
The translated advertising is aimed at communities where English is less widely spoken.
The Federal Government has also engaged trusted Indigenous community leaders to provide vaccine-related information in a culturally appropriate way, using a specialist Indigenous-owned communication agency, Carbon Creative, to support this program.
Additionally, they said the department ran the “For All of Us” campaign, encouraging First Australians to get vaccinated.
This project features a number of high profile Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who have come together to encourage their mob to go and get a recognised COVID-19 vaccination. Model Samantha Harris, musician Baker Boy, and renowned didgeridoo player and vocalist William Barton are among those encouraging further vaccination uptake and seeking to combat vaccine hesitancy.
Similarly, the DOH said, the Federal Government has partnered with the AFL and NRL to produce videos with Indigenous players, including former AFL football star Adam Goodes.
It has also entered into partnership agreements with several Indigenous media organisations—including two based in the NT—to “ensure our vaccine messaging is accurate and reaching regional and remote communities via trusted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.”
According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Australia currently has 250 living indigenous languages and 800 dialects that are often very specific to localities in the country.
The 2016 Australian census identified two of the main Indigenous languages spoken in the Northern Territory: Kriol and Djambarrpuyngu. Kriol is spoken predominantly in the Katherine region of the NT, where the current outbreak of COVID-19 is situated.
Mccarthy’s comments came after nine of her family members contracted COVID-19 in the current outbreak in the Northern Territory. All are currently in the Howard Springs quarantine facility on the outskirts of Darwin.
In a Sky News interview on Thursday, McCarthy said that “It is a difficult time and an anxious time for them, but they’re sounding a lot better.”