Proving small but mighty, the remote Aboriginal community of Warmun has vaccinated 76 per cent of its eligible population against the coronavirus in just two days.

The community, located 161km north of Halls Creek, vaccinated 182 community members in a huge effort alongside the WA Country Health Service.

Staff from the Kimberley Public Health Unit arrived in the community three days before the vaccination blitz to speak to the residents about the vaccine, and a well-attended primary school sports carnival provided the perfect opportunity to mingle and discuss people’s concerns.

Gija woman Catherine Engelke spearheaded the vaccination drive. Born in Derby and growing up in Halls Creek, the GP has family ties to Warmun and has worked with the community for a decade.

She said community Elders played an important role in getting residents on board with the vaccination drive early and that Warmun Chair, Madeline Purdie, played a huge role in bringing community confidence up.

“Madeline was one of the first people that came to the clinic in the morning, and she brought a number of Elders, or most of the Elders actually, with her to the clinic because she drove the bus,” Dr Engelke told NIT.

“She was one of the first ones that came to the clinic; she demonstrated and led by example. She rolled up her sleeves and said, I’m here to receive my COVID vaccine.”

On July 1, the Royal Flying Doctor Service carried a freezer of Pfizer jabs into the community, and Dr Engelke trained local Remote Area Nurses on how to handle the vaccine.

Knowing the community personally helped Dr Engelke in delivering the vaccination drive.

“I’ve had difficult conversations with a large proportion of the community in the past, and we’ve had to make important treatment decisions, so they obviously know and trust me,” Dr Engelke said.

Those relationships helped Dr Engelke tackle the vaccine misinformation within the community.

“Once I was able to discuss the implication, the pros and cons of getting the Pfizer vaccine, I was able to relieve some of their concern, so they were actually comfortable and happy to have the Pfizer vaccine,” she said.

“There is (mis)information that you can potentially get a microchip, that you can get COVID from the vaccine, that there are complications in terms of blood clots and people dying because of the vaccine.”

Moving forward, the Pfizer jab will be the standard vaccine administered to Indigenous people, a spokesperson for the Federal Department of Health told NIT.

“By August, all ACCHS (Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services) delivering Pfizer will be allocated between 15-20,000 doses per week, with reallocations across the remote program ensuring equity,” the spokesperson said.

It’s personal for Dr Engelke — the people in Warmun are her mob, the Gija people. She said being able to protect her people from the virus was a career highlight.

“I had the best childhood growing up in the East Kimberley and the COVID virus can potentially decimate our community,” Dr Engelke said.

“There is nothing, as a doctor, that I have available to protect the community apart from immunisations or vaccinations.”

The second round of vaccinations took place on July 22 and 23, three weeks after the initial round.

By Sarah Smit