Risk of severe illness from COVID‐19 among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults: the construct of ‘vulnerable populations’ obscures the root causes of health inequities Journal Articles uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: To quantify the prevalence of known health-related risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, and their relationship with social determinants. METHODS: Weighted cross-sectional analysis of the 2018-19 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey; Odds Ratios for cumulative risk count category (0, 1, or ≥2 health-related risk factors) by social factors calculated using ordered logistic regression. RESULTS: Of the adult population, 42.9%(95%CI:40.6,45.2) had none of the examined health-related risk factors; 38.9%(36.6,41.1) had 1, and 18.2%(16.7,19.7) had ≥2. Adults experiencing relative advantage across social indicators had significantly lower cumulative risk counts, with 30-70% lower odds of being in a higher risk category. CONCLUSIONS: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must continue to be recognised as a priority population in all stages of pandemic preparedness and response as they have disproportionate exposure to social factors associated with risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Indigeneity itself is not a 'risk' factor and must be viewed in the wider context of inequities that impact health Implications for public health: Multi-sectoral responses are required to improve health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic that: enable self-determination; improve incomes, safety, food security and culturally-safe healthcare; and address discrimination and trauma.


  • Thurber, Katherine A
  • Barrett, Eden M
  • Agostino, Jason
  • Chamberlain, Catherine
  • Ward, James
  • Wade, Vicki
  • Belfrage, Mary
  • Maddox, Raglan
  • Peiris, David
  • Walker, Jennifer
  • Baffour, Bernard
  • Wenitong, Mark
  • Law, Charlee
  • Senior, Timothy
  • Priest, Naomi
  • Freeman, Kate
  • Schramm, Tanya

publication date

  • December 2021