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'My opinion has changed': Why Thompson's backing vaccine campaign

Former Indigenous All Stars forward Joel Thompson has urged Australians in regional communities to consider getting vaccinated after experiencing first hand the impact of COVID-19 in England.

Thompson, who plays for St Helens, contracted COVID-19 after joining the Super League champions from Manly at the end of last season and is concerned about the growing number of cases in western NSW.

"My opinion has definitely changed around COVID since arriving in the UK," Thompson told NRL.com. "The UK have done it tough with long lockdowns and unfortunately over 130,000 people have lost their lives.

"My little girl and myself caught COVID within weeks of being in the UK over Christmas. We were both unwell and realised quickly the virus is very real.

"As a result, I am now fully vaccinated and had the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, with no side effects at all."

Let's tackle this together

The former Raiders, Dragons and Sea Eagles second-rower was raised by his grandmother Gloria, who lives in Ivanhoe, and he is worried that COVID-19 could have a devastating effect in regional communities.

Thompson, who is a leading mental health advocate and established The Mindset Project in 2012, is also concerned about the impact of ongoing lockdowns and has seen how high vaccination rates have enabled people in Britain to resume to a more normal life.

"Seeing the current situation back home is concerning," he said. "My biggest worry is the effect COVID will have on our vulnerable people in our regional communities who don't have the same access to health facilities.

"My Nan is considered most at risk so I'm relieved she has had her first vaccine and that the roll out seems to slowly reaching more Australians.

"Whilst I respect people's choices, I am concerned for the future of Australia in relation to learning to live with COVID and avoiding extended lockdowns, which cause a range of other issues.

"I hope people can see the value in being vaccinated to protect those more vulnerable in our communities to fight our way through this pandemic and to work towards getting back to a more ‘normal' way of life."

Thompson's comments come after South Sydney winger Alex Johnston and former Indigenous stars Dean Widders and Rhys Wesser also expressed concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in western NSW.

"Stay home, stay safe and if you get the opportunity to get vaccinated do it," Johnston said.

Widders also encouraged people to get vaccinated, while Wesser suggested ways to avoid gatherings of extended family members who don't live in the same household.

Cronulla fullback Will Kennedy, who is from Bathurst, offered his support on Tuesday to Indigenous communities in western NSW, including Walgett, which has had a COVID outbreak 

"All mob out at Walgett, they're doing it tough at the moment, and I'm sure other communities around there as well. Just stay safe and we'll pull through it," Kennedy said.

Veteran Broncos playmaker Albert Kelly said: "Stay home and protect our elders and children".