“Make an informed choice after speaking to a trusted Aboriginal medical professional.”

That’s the advice Andrew Birtwistle-Smith has for people who are on the fence about the COVID-19 vaccination.

Birtwistle-Smith is a Boandik Meintangk man from southeast South Australia and the CEO of South Australian medical service, Pangula Mannamurna Aboriginal Corporation in Mount Gambier.

Birtwistle-Smith is fully vaccinated and said he made the choice to get the jab after weighing up the pros and cons.

“I just got myself informed [by] speaking to my medical professional and my local GP in regards to the role of the vaccinations, what it means, and what the pros and cons were,” he told NIT.

“The benefits far outweigh the negatives. If I got COVID and I wasn’t vaccinated, based on statistics, I could be in serious trouble.

“Even with the vaccinations … I might not be 100 per cent covered and I still might get the virus, but based on research around hospitalisations, death, and long-term effects from COVID, if I’m vaccinated, there’s less likelihood that will happen to me.”

Birtwistle-Smith said the fears around vaccination are often based on misunderstandings caused by the circulation of incorrect information.

“We all hear, rightly or wrongly, the pros and cons about the COVID vaccinations because they’ve been approved so quickly,” he said.

“But [many people don’t know] that the reason why they were [approved] so quickly [was] because [COVID-19] was having such a devastating effect on the world, so it was made a priority by the World Health Organisation, pumping as much time, resources and energy into vaccinations [as possible].”

He said it’s important to be aware that not all information available about the vaccinations will be reliable.

“Try and avoid taking things from Facebook or from your particular websites that have no evidence about whether that information is accurate or not,” he said.

“I know it’s difficult to do, particularly when it’s coming from family or family’s Facebook pages, but I still say that may not necessarily be accurate information.

“What’s best is to go and speak to medical professionals.”

Although the uptake of the vaccine was initially slow in SA, Birtwistle-Smith said since more doses of Pfizer have arrived, jabs are getting into arms quicker.

“This region here is definitely increased in regards to people wanting to ring up,” he said.

“I know from my experience, and also my staff experience, more and more people are asking questions and more and more people [are] coming in wanting to have more specific questions or discussions around vaccinations.

“We were doing vaccinations every couple of weeks, but now we’re looking at doing vaccinations weekly, because definitely more people are wanting to be vaccinated.”

As at August 19, 183,316 Aboriginal people around the country have had at least one dose of the vaccine, with 94,744 having received their second dose.

That’s 31.6 percent of the Indigenous population with one jab, and 16.7 percent with two.

By Sarah Smit