A federal government announcement that the Illawarra would be included in a significant effort to boost lagging vaccination rates among Australia's Indigenous population has been welcomed by Woolyungah Indigenous Centre.
Woolyungah's executive director of strategy Jaymee Beveridge said she was excited about news of the Illawarra being named among 30 regions considered a priority.
"Our community is crying out for access to the vaccination," she said.
"Access has always been an issue and this means we will have vaccine readily available.
"I know that NSW Health are working extensively behind the scenes to map out what are the best places to actually get into the community and administer the vaccines.
"They really want to get into areas where our mob have communities because not everyone has access to vehicles. Areas like Dapto, Warrawong and Bellambi are definitely on their radar. So this is really good and promising."
Ms Beveridge was involved in running a pop-up vaccination day for the Aboriginal community in July when 135 people rolled up their sleeves in the Woolyungah student centre at the University of Wollongong.
She said that was achieved through community networks without any social media.
"Within six hours we had booked out and started accumulating a wait list," she said.
"And Area Health were so amazing. They said just keep taking bookings and we will make sure we have enough nursing staff.
"We repurposed the whole student centre and had the fire pit burning so the smoke signal was there for members of our mob who had never been on campus.
"We had community members and elders who were just completely overwhelmed with being able to access the vaccine safely. It fuelled my soul for many days."
Ms Beveridge said the demand has only grown since then and the Aboriginal community was much more comfortable being vaccinated in a place they feel safe and with people they trust.
"Since we had our vaccine clinic here we have up to 10 people a day asking when the next clinic is planned at Woolyungah," she said.
"And it is not just about us having a clinic. We are also referring back to all the appropriate people in trying to get them to clinics closer to them and their communities."
Ms Beveridge said Indigenous Australians were eager to get a COVID vaccine and she will plan more clinics in several locations once Woolyungah Indigenous Centre gets the green light and enough medical staff and vaccine to proceed.
"And we would have one back here (at Woolyungah) in a heartbeat," she said.
"We are a low vaccinated population but it is not about resistance. It is about access and feeling safe."
The team at #vaxtheillawarra are also encouraging that after identifying the Aboriginal community as one of the highest priorities for vaccination.
Ms Beveridge said they want the same civil liberties and freedoms that will come when NSW reaches the 70 per cent double dose milestone.
And welcomed the #vaxtheillawarra's encouragement and commitment to seeing the region become fully vaccinated.