Sydney’s Pacific communities are in mourning after the death of an unvaccinated young mother in western Sydney to COVID-19.
Thirty-year-old Ianeta Baker Isaako became the youngest woman to die of the virus in Australia on Monday when she died at home at Emerton.
Her husband is in hospital with the virus.
Ms Isaako’s family reportedly originates from New Zealand, Samoa and Tokelau.
Sydney University professor Jioji Ravulo told AAP it was not just Ms Baker’s family that was mourning her passing, but the whole community.
“The whole area is really devastated by this,” he said.
“Pacific communities are very relationally driven. Even though it might be an individual family, it has a ripple effect. Our understanding of each other is inextricably connected to each other.”
More than one in three people with Pacific ancestry in Australia lives in NSW.
That population is largely concentrated in Blacktown, the local government area where Ms Isaako lived, and southwest Sydney.
Professor Ravulo, a researcher in social work and policy studies, has been working to improve uptake of vaccines in Sydney’s Pacific communities.
NSW records 1,029 new cases as some restrictions relaxed
He told AAP he was concerned that people did not believe COVID was a serious disease. He has also seen misinformation around the safety of the vaccines.
Prof Ravulo described another “pervasive” sentiment that is preventing take-up of the vaccine: “God’s got our back … We’ll just trust in our prayers to overcome. Jesus is our vaccine.”
Ms Isaako’s death is “a very tangible example for our communities to now sit up and realise that they need to do something proactively about their individual and collective response to COVID,” he said.
Enthusiasm for vaccination among Pacific communities has improved in recent weeks, Prof Ravulo added.
He has been working with NSW Health to shape communications for his community, and to establish a number of pop-up vaccination hubs targeting Pacific communities in Mt Druitt and Catherine Park.
He’s also facilitating an online forum about the COVID-19 response on Thursday evening, with NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Natalie Ward and other Pacific community groups.
And he’s encouraging people to record their own videos encouraging vaccination and put them on social media using the hashtag “#PacVax”.
“Something that’s very, very important is to ensure that Pacific people are seeing themselves in conversations regarding vaccinations, but also the impacts of what COVID has had in the community,” he said.
COVID-19 is spreading easily through his community because of large family sizes, he said.
“You might have a three-bedroom home and eight people living in there,” he said.
“We then don’t have the physical space where if we do have a family member that contracts COVID, how do we adequately socially distance ourselves from the rest of the family?”
But the growing case numbers are making people take the virus more seriously, he said.
Yagoona GP Olataga Alofivae-Doorbinnia has had a number of patients test positive and she said most people she is treating know of a relative or friend who has tested positive for the virus.
But enthusiasm for vaccination was “slowly seeping out” among her patients.
“Today we’ve got many unbooked people coming into our surgery and most of the day has been COVID-19 vaccinations,” she told AAP on Wednesday.
“More people are getting vaccinated now.”
Since the latest outbreak began on 16 June, the COVID-19 deaths have reached 79. The total number of COVID-19 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic at the start of 2020 is 135.
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