The death of a Koori man in Dubbo last Sunday to COVID-19, the first Indigenous Australian to die from the virus, is an absolute tragedy, and I express my deepest condolences to his family and friends - and the wider mob.
The sad reality is that the man was unvaccinated - and his death underscores the need to greatly speed up the vaccination rollout among Indigenous Australians, and right now, particularly among Kooris living in western New South Wales.
As well as protecting the lives of the mob, the more we get vaccinated, the more we will contribute to wider vaccination rates - and the sooner we can get back to living the lives we all enjoy.
Koori people living in western New South Wales are a sociable mob - enjoying everything from family gatherings to attending and taking part in major annual events like the NSW Koori Knockout, an enormously popular Indigenous rugby league carnival first held back in 1971.
Sadly, for the second year running, the 2021 Koori Knockout was cancelled because of fears stemming from COVID-19.
I know the cancellation of this event was really tough on the mob, given people from across a large number of nations would have attended to cheer on their home team.
So I put this challenge out: which community is going to win the 2021 Koori COVID Vaccination Knockout by getting the most of our mob vaccinated?
I also know not being able to travel to visit family has also been very tough. Missing out on important occasions like these is just one of the reasons I urge every eligible person in western NSW - with a particular call out to Kooris - to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
For our mental health and wellbeing we need these lockdowns to end and that won't happen while COVID-19 infections and community transmissions are so high.
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If you've had one jab, great. But make sure you get a second for greater protection and encourage all of your family and friends to get vaccinated.
My message to people, in particular the mob, is very clear: you have nothing to fear from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccines are your best protection from getting really sick, being hospitalised or tragically passing from COVID-19, and the risk of harmful side effects is very low.
I know you might have heard or read about people experiencing strange things or rare side events such as blood clots, but I can tell you the risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, particularly when there is an outbreak, is far greater.
If you have any doubts, have a chat with your doctor or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service. They'll know about the benefits, and risks, and can help you to make the right decision. They also know about your health condition and can advise what vaccine would be best for you.
As someone who has had two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine - in the company of my dear friends, Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney - I can tell you I had no side effects at all.
In fact, my whole family has been vaccinated - all with AstraZeneca except my two daughters, who had the Pfizer vaccine because of their age. No one had any side effects that lasted beyond the next day.
And it's common after any vaccine like the flu vaccine, tetanus vaccine or whooping cough vaccine to have a sore arm, a mild headache or feel fatigued or washed out.
The low vaccination rate among the Koori population in western NSW is a significant concern, but it can be successfully addressed with good planning and if everyone works together with the common goal of getting jabs in arms to protect our elders, to protect our mob, and importantly be here to continue our rich culture.
The community of Maningrida up in the Northern Territory with a population of more than 2,300 people has shown the way, with 65 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated in less than four days! If they can do it up there, there is no reason why the mob can't do it in western NSW, too!
It is really important people understand that getting vaccinated doesn't just protect the person who gets the jab. It protects friends and family members - and remember that could be your grandparents who, because of their age, are going to be more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 if they catch it.
It also helps to protect the wider community.
Every Koori person in western NSW who gets vaccinated is playing a very important role in getting NSW that bit closer to the 70 per cent vaccination mark that can see us start to put behind us some of the restrictions and uncertainty we currently live with.
For me, I'm looking forward to the day I can again see and cuddle my grandson who lives in Sydney.
Given I don't live there, that day might be a way off, but widespread vaccination is the key to all of us being able to enjoy such joys again.
My final message to the mob in western NSW is that it is absolutely vital you don't forget your regular appointments with your doctor or Aboriginal heath service. It might be a regular health check, or it might be because you have diabetes or a heart condition.
We need to keep up with our health checks, medications and cancer screenings - so don't put them off because of COVID lockdowns. Go to your doctor or health service.
So if you haven't done so already, get vaccinated. For yourself, your family, your friends - and the mob! And don't forget your other important, regular health appointments and medicines.
Professor Tom Calma AO is the National Coordinator for Tackling Indigenous Smoking
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