Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
One of the leading lights in Australia’s public health sector, proud Yorta Yorta woman, Dr Summer May Finlay, is leading the call for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to get vaccinated against COVID.
Prompted by recent data from the Department of Health showing a big gap between non-Aboriginal people who are vaccinated compared to Aboriginal people right across Australia, including in her home town, Wollongong, south of Sydney.
Keen to help play her part, Dr Finlay, the PHAA Vice President (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander), signed on as an ‘ambassador’ for the newly-launched #VaxTheIllawarra campaign.
This grassroots public health campaign is an Australian first, and has set an ambitious target of the Illawarra becoming the first region in Australia to achieve 80 per cent fully vaccinated.
The #VaxTheIllawarra team is putting an extra effort into explaining the importance and low risk of vaccination to the region’s Aboriginal community.
“We know there are people out there getting vaccinated, which is great, but we are actually under the Illawarra average,” Dr Finlay said.
“We need to be making sure that we do everything we can to protect our health and our communities.
“A lot of our mob have chronic diseases which obviously can limit life expectancy or limit quality of life.
“Getting vaccinated will actually reduce the risk that COVID would put on someone who has chronic diseases. Furthermore, getting vaccinated means that even if you are healthy, you’re protecting your mob who aren’t as healthy.”
Dr Finlay has a second, equally important motive for getting vaccinated. She is due to give birth to her first child within days.
“It is normal to have concerns, particularly if you are pregnant, because we want to make sure that we do the best things for our baby,” she explained.
“But I was reassured by my GP what I was doing was safe. I encourage other people who have concerns to talk to their GP, but I can honestly say getting vaccinated is the best way we as a community can tackle COVID.”
Dr Finlay has joined more than 50 other ambassadors from all walks of life supporting the #VaxTheIllawarra campaign. These include Australia’s Governor-General, David Hurley, who was born and educated in Wollongong, and recent public health graduate and Olympic swimming superstar, Emma McKeon.
Other ambassadors include the University of Wollongong Vice Chancellor, Professor Patricia Davidson, and global entertainment entrepreneur, Michael Cassel, who presented his first show in Wollongong 25 years ago.
“We understand there is hesitation amongst a number of groups in the community but by sharing stories like Summer May’s we hope it gives people greater confidence in the vaccination process,” said #VaxTheIllawarra co-founder, Vicki Tiegs.