Pregnant, expectant and breastfeeding First Nations mums will be the focus of new research that seeks to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among Aboriginal women across Western Australia.

The project, led by Dr Anne-Marie Eades from the Curtin School of Allied Health, was made possible by Federal Government funding of more than $800,000 from the 2021 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Dr Eades, a Noongar woman from the Wagyl Kaip region of Western Australia, said First Nations women, particularly of a childbearing age, urgently needed greater access to vaccinations because they were most vulnerable to infection

“There is currently a lack of research addressing the barriers to the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination among Aboriginal families,” Dr Eades said.

“What we do know is that Aboriginal people are less likely to have been vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to the general population, with the differences most bleak in Western Australia.

“Our study will evaluate the successes, barriers and opportunities of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program to reach Aboriginal women and their unborn children – and potentially target children under five in the event of an early childhood COVID-19 vaccine rollout.”

Partnering with the South-West Aboriginal Medical Service (SWAMS) and Babbingur Mia-Aboriginal Women’s Health Service, Dr Eades will be supported by a team of leading experts in Aboriginal health, COVID-19 vaccinations, immunisation, and midwifery.

“We need to determine what factors could have encouraged a greater uptake of vaccination for First Nations mothers who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive,” Dr Eades said.

“The research will also explore cultural understandings of health, illness, health data and collect information about the perceptions and experiences of Aboriginal woman before, during and after their pregnancy.”

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran congratulated the team on being awarded funding support from the Federal Government through the NHMRC.

“This team is bringing critical focus to an important area of unmet need,” Professor Moran said.

“This research will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and experts with the ultimate aim of driving up vaccination rates to protect the community, especially unborn children.”

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