Is the Aboriginal population in Australia's Northern Territory being forcibly vaccinated against COVID-19? No, that's not true: Experts told Lead Stories that COVID-19 vaccination in Aboriginal populations is not compulsory.
The claim appeared in a video (archived here) posted to Rumble on November 24, 2021. The video is a segment from The Stew Peters Show that featured a clip of a Northern Territory Aboriginal individual with a group of others describing forced COVID-19 vaccination. Beginning at the 1:58 mark, the individual said:
We have the Northern Territory government force-vaccinating our people, pressuring them, using military -- using foreign military, foreign police officers, and local military and local police officers -- to pressure our people into taking this bioweapon.
The individual went on to refer to Aboriginal populations as the "guinea pigs" of the world, saying that they were being used to test COVID-19 vaccines, which they describe as nefarious.
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The claims made in the clip have been discredited by Australian officials and Aboriginal leaders alike. David Cole, the individual speaking in the clip, is a noted anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist. To strengthen his claims in the clip, Cole made allusions to the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal populations in Australia. The Australian government and other Australian institutional bodies have in the past conducted unethical treatment against Aboriginal populations, perhaps most notably the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families.
However, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination efforts are comparable to those historical unethical policies. Wurli-Wurlinjang Aboriginal Health Service, an Aboriginal health services organization based in the Northern Territory, posted COVID-19 vaccination information via Facebook on November 24, 2021. The post included a statement made by leaders of the Aboriginal communities of Binjari and Rockhole, which are located near Katherine, a town in the Northern Territory:
People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation. Support personnel and organisations are providing support to Binjari and Rockhole.
We have been treated with a lot of respect and appreciate all the support being given by these support personnel people.
We are in lockdown because we're in the biggest fight of our lives. We're trying to keep safe. We're trying to do the right thing by the community and Katherine. We don't need people out there creating another flood for us.
We don't appreciate outside people making comments that are untrue. People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.
In an email to Lead Stories on November 26, 2021, a spokesperson for the National Indigenous Australians Agency, said:
Vaccination for COVID-19 is voluntary - as are all vaccinations in Australia - and people maintain the option to choose.
There are some work settings that require a vaccination, but this does not constitute a forced vaccination.
Lead Stories was forwarded a comment from John Paterson, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, in an email on November 26, 2021. Paterson said:
This and related videos from the Rumble site are palpably false and malicious.
1. There is no evidence that the Australian Defence Forces have behaved in the manner alleged. There role has been, unarmed, the distribution of food to Aboriginal people in quarantine, and supplying transport.
2. The major player in delivery of services, health and welfare, to the Aboriginal communities currently in Covid isolation has been the local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Serve, Wurli Wurlinjang, with strong front line support from the Northern Territory Health Department, police members, and local charities.
3. This has occurred under very trying conditions such as wearing full PPE for hours at a time, day after day, in +40 degree Celsius heat.
4. These allegations are being made, in any case, without any audio, audiovisual or print evidence.
5. The particular video utilised, based on conspiracy theories and hearsay, are insulting to the Traditional Owners and residents of the communities concerned, and damaging to efforts to achieve vaccination levels that can ensure the health of Aboriginal people.
Meanwhile, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) issued a statement released on November 25, 2021, that began:
Defence is aware of social media posts claiming the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is forcibly vaccinating or detaining members of the Australian community.
These claims are emphatically false.
Defence personnel currently supporting Northern Territory Government authorities cannot forcibly remove residents from their homes, forcibly vaccinate residents against their will nor forcibly prevent residents from filming or photographing events in public places.
Defence is supporting the Whole-of-Government response to COVID-19 under Operation COVID-19 ASSIST, providing support as requested by States and Territories through Emergency Management Australia. Primarily this support focuses on COVID testing, the welfare of community and supporting measure to slow the spread of the COVID.
ADF personnel serve in a supporting role to State and Territory authorities and are not empowered or authorised to conduct any law enforcement activities.
The statement also clarified the role of ADF in COVID-19 vaccination:
The ADF is not administering COVID-19 vaccines to the Australian public. However, ADF personnel previously supported administration of COVID-19 vaccines in aged and disability care facilities.
Even Michael Gunner, chief minister of the Northern Territory, weighed in on similar claims during a press conference on November 25, 2021. Gunner referred to such claims as a "huge amount of misinformation" that leads to "dangerous" lies by anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists.
All of Lead Stories' novel coronavirus debunks can be found here.