Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan (center) speaks to media announcing that 72 homes have been destroyed by fires, in Perth on Feb 3, 2021. (TREVOR COLLENS / AFP）
White supremacist groups including some in the US are spreading vaccine misinformation online among Indigenous communities in remote parts of Western Australia in order to create fear of inoculation and cause harm, state premier Mark McGowan said.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt said last month the government had been working with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization and Indigenous pastors from across Australia to combat misinformation and “extreme messages,” many of which came out of the US
“Just now we heard from one Aboriginal person who said white supremacist groups are sending information to Aboriginal people that they shouldn’t get vaccinated,” McGowan told reporters Thursday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.
Western Australia – one of the world’s last COVID-19-zero policy holdouts – will keep its borders closed until the state hits a vaccination rate of 90 percent for people aged 12 and over, a milestone it’s expected to hit in late January or early February. McGowan said even then remote areas of the sprawling state could remain closed to visitors when the hard border is dropped, given low vaccination rates in some communities, the ABC reported.
The Western Australian government last month also launched a vaccination blitz for First Nations people. The vaccination rate in the state’s Indigenous communities at less than 50 percent as of Nov 19. Statewide, the vaccination rate is now 76.6 percent.
Online misinformation has been a constant challenge for health authorities throughout the pandemic, said the Aboriginal strategic advisor to the state’s Vaccine Commander, Wanita Bartholomeusz, the ABC reported. Some of it had been linked to faith-based organizations in the US, she said.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt said last month the government had been working with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization and Indigenous pastors from across Australia to combat misinformation and “extreme messages,” many of which came out of the US.
The Australian government funded a Vax the Outback campaign to promote vaccination in remote areas. The star of that campaign, Indigenous entertainer Ernie Dingo, and his family received death threats from anti-vaccination campaigners after he participated in the inoculation push, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“Some of these groups, like white supremacist groups, are doing it because they want to harm Aboriginal people,” McGowan said. “I just urge Aboriginal people to listen to the experts, who say the vaccine is safe and effective and it will save their lives.”