MARY G: Dr. Jeffries-Stokes is a paediatrician who has been working in clinical practice and research in the Goldfields of Western Australia for more than 25 years. She is a medical coordinator with the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia. She has a Master's in public health and has just completed a PhD. She is Chief Investigator for the Western Desert kidney health project, which has demonstrated new and innovative methods of community engagement. She has a very strong record of collaborative research with the Aboriginal community and established strong community networks. Dr. Jeffries-Stokes is a very valuable resource for our community as a whole. Hi, Doctor, how are you?
DR CHRISTINE JEFFRIES-STOKES: Hello. I'm at work.
MARY G: That's good. It's good when people work?
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah. Helps pay the bills.
MARY G: That's the only reason that yes, otherwise we’d be all off on holidays.
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah.
MARY G: Hmmm, okay, well, Dr. Jeffries-Stokes. Can you tell us about your practice in the Goldfields communities and the communities you work with?
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah. I'm a children's doctor in the Goldfields. Been here for nearly 30 years now. Before that worked in the Kimberley. And I work a lot with the Aboriginal community, my children are Aboriginal and big extended Aboriginal family. And this week, I'm going on clinic run to Mount Margaret, Laverton, and Leonora, but mostly I work in the hospital in Kalgoorlie.
MARY G: And Western Australia has had the advantage of time to get this population vaccinated against COVID-19. What has the take up been like in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, in the surrounding area?
DR CHRISTINE: Kalgoorlie-Boulder has been pretty good. There's been pretty slow uptake, though in the surrounding area, particularly among the Aboriginal community. And that really worries me.
MARY G: And what has the situation been in the area of the last couple of say, couple of months?
DR CHRISTINE: So, vaccine uptake has improved a bit. And now vaccines are available for children as well over the age of five. So that's really good. But up until recently, we didn't have many cases. But now like today, we've got more than 250 active cases of COVID in the Goldfields. So that's scary.
MARY G: It's growing in the Kimberley, too. And yep, it’s sad. Now a vaccine has now been approved for children aged 5 to 11. And children, of course, is your specialty. Is it the same as the adult vaccine?
DR CHRISTINE: It is the same vaccine. But we give a smaller dose.
MARY G: Okay, it's exactly the same thing.
DR CHRISTINE: Exactly the same, yep.
MARY G: How safe and effective is the vaccine for children?
DR CHRISTINE: It's very safe. There's been now because of so many cases worldwide, we've actually had a lot of opportunity to study the vaccines and see if the risk of side effects and stuff.
MARY G: And how many doses will they need? I mean, is it the same amount as adults?
DR CHRISTINE: Initially, they have two doses, but they had them a bit more spaced out. So, they have them, instead of 3 weeks, between the two doses, they have 8 weeks between the two doses.
MARY G: And what happens if a child turns 12 before they have the second jab, which do they get for the second dose?
DR CHRISTINE: They get the adult dose if they turn 12. And that's partly because their body's changing a lot around about the age of 12. And so, they probably need a bigger dose.
MARY G: They're becoming little adults.
DR CHRISTINE: They are, yes.
MARY G: Now, a lot of children may have very mild or even no symptoms at all if they get COVID-19. So, it is really important to vaccinate them at all?
DR CHRISTINE: It is because although they might not get very sick, they can carry the germ and infect people who are really at risk. So older people, people who are on treatments for cancer, people who have diabetes, kidney disease, all those things that we know that all our Aboriginal families have a lot of people who sadly are affected by those disease. And our little kids, we love to hug them and kiss them and stuff. But that increases the risk of them passing on the germ. And although the risk of children getting sick is less, they still can get sick. So, we don't know which ones are going to get really sick and which ones are not.
MARY G: And is it recommended that children be vaccinated against COVID even if they have had COVID?
DR CHRISTINE: Absolutely, because the virus is clever and it keeps changing itself, you can get COVID more than once. And so, having the vaccine helps protect you against getting sick if you come into contact with a new, what we call a new variant, or a new type of the same germ.
MARY G: So why should children get the COVID-19 vaccine?
CSJ: They should get it because it protects them from getting sick. And it helps to protect them from passing it on to other people who could get really sick.
MARY G: And yourself as a paediatrician, you probably also talk to a lot of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, what sort of questions or concerns do they have in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations?
DR CHRISTINE: Pregnant mothers should be wary about having any medications or treatments during pregnancy. But we're confident because this vaccine has been used worldwide on millions of people now, and we believe that it's much safer to have the vaccine in pregnancy than to get COVID in pregnancy.
MARY G: Pretty scary. It keeps shape shifting itself.
DR CHRISTINE: It does.
MARY G: What particular risks might there be for an unvaccinated pregnant woman, should they catch COVID?
DR CHRISTINE: If they catch COVID, then the risk for them to get very sick, particularly with breathing problems, and need to get help with that like go onto a ventilator and need oxygen, maybe even die, are quite significant during pregnancy. And so yeah, it's a hard decision to make. But we believe that it's much better to get protected from COVID and protected before you get pregnant if you can. But if you can't, during pregnancy, the vaccine is safe. But the, the germ is not safe.
MARY G: And can you address the talk of COVID-19 vaccinations causing infertility that has been popping up on social media?
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah, that is not true. It does not cause infertility. The vaccine won't make people unable to have children.
MARY G: Well, I'll tell you what it is unpredictable future isn’t it really, unless you of course, if you make it make sure that you take your vaccinations.
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah, absolutely. And although having the vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get COVID it does make a very, very big difference to how sick you get.
MARY G: It's just like the flu.
DR CHRISTINE: Exactly. Yeah, definitely like the flu.
MARY G: So if you get the flu needle, you'll still get the flu, but it won't be as bad.
DR CHRISTINE: That's right. And all the vaccines we give during childhood like for chickenpox and things, kids can still get it, but they don't get nearly as sick.
MARY G: Now, doctor, like you say you had a huge, long experience with many Indigenous communities, the Aboriginal community. What about our people out there who are scared of COVID-19 vaccinations have phobias, or some people are scaring people - is any special message coming from you? For them to, you know, take on?
DR CHRISTINE: Yeah, a lot of the misinformation about it has come sadly, through the churches. And that is a really bad message. Because the first message of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love the Lord your God. Second message is to love your neighbor as yourself. And if you're going to love your neighbor, that means you want to protect them. And the best way to protect them is by getting the vaccine.
MARY G: And understanding the whole process.
DR CHRISTINE: The vaccine is just a vaccine. It's nothing else. It's just like any kind of medicine, it can really make a difference to your life and the life of people around you.
MARY G: Doctor is anything else you'd like to add? Any special messages that's coming from you that you'd like to say to our people?
DR CHRISTINE: I'd like to say that you’ve got concerns, go and talk to your doctor, because in your individual case, there might be special things to consider. And that's worth talking about to your doctor or your health worker. But make sure you get your information about this from a reliable source, someone who can read the medical literature and explain that to you. Not someone who's just read it on Facebook.
MARY G: Beautiful. Okay, look, Dr. Jeffries- Stokes, thank you so much for sharing with us. And I think it's important to hear from you. You're on the ground really working with the people. So, thank you very much for taking part in an interview.
DR CHRISTINE: Thanks for having me.
MARY G: And tell your hubby if you two separate I'm available.
DR CHRISTINE: I'll tell him, but I don't think that's happening anytime soon.
MARY G: It'll never happen. He loves you too much.
DR CHRISTINE: Love you too.
MARY G: Bye.
DR CHRISTINE: See ya, bye.