23 April 2021

Subjects: Vaccine roll out in the NT

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, good morning to you.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Katie, and good morning to all your listeners.

WOOLF: Now, Senator, I understand that you have been out to, well, to a couple of different remote communities. So you've been out to Maningrida and Jabiru speaking to people out in those communities about the vaccine rollout and some of the confusion and uncertainty that they're having at this point.

MCCARTHY: That's correct, Kate. It's really important to get a sense of what is going on in terms of communication around the COVID vaccine, especially when we think about the fact that we've got over 100 Aboriginal languages across the Northern Territory. It's been difficult with the messaging so far as all Australians would know, in terms of AstraZeneca, so I thought it was really important. And I'm still in the process of travelling to many other places and talking to both Northern Territory health clinics and also the Aboriginal community controlled organisations.

WOOLF: And so Malarndirri is the, is the rollout into those remote communities, the responsibility of the federal government or the responsibility of of the Territory Government, or how does it work?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, ultimately, the responsibility is with the Commonwealth Government because this is a pandemic right across the country. So we know that there has to be thorough coordination at the federal level, obviously working closely with the state and territories. I received a briefing in February, a couple of briefings in February in terms of that relationship. But there is a expectation and an understanding that the Commonwealth really needs to get its act together in terms of that overarching coordination, Katie.

WOOLF: And when we talk then about the the more remote communities, you know, some of the communities that are going to require that vaccine to come in, the health minister had said on the show earlier this morning, Natasha Fyles, that they're going to be rolling out the Pfizer vaccine, as I understand it, to those remote communities. But then that cold storage comes into play. What are people saying to you? What have they said to you over the past week about the vaccines? And are they happy enough to be receiving the pfizer?

MCCARTHY: It's interesting to hear the debate around the Pfizer now when we had spoken about this earlier in the year and even towards the end of last year. Pfizer is something that we had been calling for and the concerns around how they were going to be stored have been well known. In fact, the First Nations Caucus raised it in Canberra with the Commonwealth Health Department about the communities themselves being vaccinated in one hit. And we were told they were going to proceed and have a look at that. Nothing happened until now. They're suddenly recalibrating - I think the word they're using at national cabinet and saying that that's what they're going to do, you know, have a look at those issues. But I'm just concerned that they just keep looking at issues or looking at ways to do things. And yet what's happening in the community is to get back to your question is that people are just confused, just confused.

WOOLF: How do you reckon we clear up that messaging? So, you know, how is this solved, do you think?

MCCARTHY: Well, I spoke with certainly the Aboriginal health workers both in Jabiru and out at Maningrida and the clinics there. And they just need certainty. You know, they were very clear about how they do their flu vaccine rollout last year. They're prepared to do the same with the vaccine in terms of COVID, but they're not getting the direct messaging. So I think it's really a case of if they're going to do something, if the Commonwealth’s going to do something to make it absolutely crystal clear when it's actually coming to the community, what day, what weeks, what are the dates? And so that people can just be ready.

WOOLF: Yeah, I think that that's a very fair point to make. And Malarndirri, I understand you met my mum out in Maningrida as well.

MCCARTHY: I did. It was lovely to meet her. And she's you know, she's one of the most amazing people out there who are trying to work with the communities to get this vaccine rollout happening. So it' was great to see her.

WOOLF: Oh, good on your Malarndirri. Always great to catch up. And we always appreciate your time. Thanks so much for chatting with us this morning.

MCCARTHY: No worries. Thank Katie.