Concerns have been raised about the level of those that remain unvaccinated among workers in remote Indigenous community stores, as Aboriginal leaders seek an urgent ministerial meeting about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The CEO of the commonwealth-owned Outback Stores has told a Senate estimates hearing all of the organisation’s 109 frontline employees are fully vaccinated.
But it is estimated just 15 to 20% of 284 Indigenous people employed by Aboriginal corporations who work in the stores are jabbed, two weeks out from the Northern Territory’s November 12 vaccine deadline.
Outback Stores chief executive Michael Borg told a Senate hearing on Friday he was “reasonably comfortable” of making progress in coming weeks.
“But I know that there will be some individuals that will be a little bit hesitant and we may have been in tough discussions within the next fortnight,” he said.
Outback Stores hoped to get through another 150 vaccinations in the next fortnight so workers, mostly in the NT, could keep their jobs.
Meanwhile, more than 20 Indigenous leaders and health professionals have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and his ministers for health and Indigenous Australians, seeking a meeting as soon as possible.
“We write as a group of Indigenous leaders and health professionals to express our gravest concerns at the continuing low levels of COVID-19 vaccine uptake by most of our communities,” the letter with signatories including Professor Marcia Langton said.
It acknowledged outbreaks among Indigenous communities were considered inevitable by state and territory governments.
But the letter raised alarm about the lack of “realistic or actionable contingency plans” agreed to by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and Indigenous experts to deal with them.
“It is evident that quarantine is currently near-impossible for those in overcrowded housing, as well as those without ready access to food, grocery and pharmaceutical delivery services.”
The territory government is requiring swathes of workers, including those in community stores, have a first dose by November 12 to keep their jobs, with full vaccination completed by December 24.
The Northern Land Council told the hearing it was “working against some pretty silly social media messaging coming from kind of crazy church groups”.
“I don’t understand it,” acting chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said.
“But we’re asking people to stop listening to social media and to get advice from their Aboriginal health practitioners or their doctor or nurse to tell them the truth.”
Mr Martin-Jard could not say what proportion of the council’s Indigenous workforce remained unvaccinated.
Central Land Council chief executive Lesley Turner said about 66 Indigenous staff members were either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
Another 11 non-Indigenous staff were unvaccinated.
The council had a $500 incentive for staff or councilors who were vaccinated, but not everyone elected to take the money.
Original content from AAP Newsroom. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
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