Māori health providers drive tough roads to bring vaccine to Northland whānau

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Māori health providers in the Far North are driving down metal roads with loud hailers to encourage whānau to get the Covid vaccine.

Vaccination teams in Kaikohe on November 8.

Vaccination teams in Kaikohe on November 8. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Vaccine teams are sprinting to boost lagging vaccination rates in Te Tai Tokerau as community cases rise. There are now 13 active cases in the region.

Another two cases in Kaikohe emerged on Monday and it has been confirmed a six-week-old baby with the virus is in Whangārei Hospital.

This week Māori health providers in the North have been joined by teams from Te Whānau O Waipareira to help boost frontline efforts.

Hauora Hokianga vaccinator Patricia Dargaville was today part of a car convoy driving around rural Pawarenga to encourage whānau to get their shots.

Vaccination teams from Hauora Hokianga outside Morehu Marae in Pawarenga.

Vaccination teams from Hauora Hokianga outside Morehu Marae in Pawarenga. Photo: Supplied

The cars were playing loud music – some ABBA, some reggae – followed by a message through a loud hailer about the pop-up vaccine clinic in Broadwood.

“From that we have engaged with 10 whānau who have travelled from Pawarenga to Broadwood to get a vaccination today,” she said.

Te Whānau O Waipareira’s Lance Norman was working in Dargaville and said the mahi was proving successful.

“We’ve actually been driving past every single house in the community, so we went down a lot of metal roads, down past some farms, and we drove past every single house in the community. So everyone is at least having a conversation or hearing the message today,” he said.

Norman said local knowledge, and conversations with hesitant whānau, were the key to encouraging people to have the vaccines.

He said even if they did not make the decision immediately, no one would be left behind.

Further south Te Whānau O Waipareira teams were also helping out Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi vaccinators in Kaikohe with kai, giveaways and plenty of music. 

It was enough to get Bill Matthews from Tautoro to pull over for his first shot, which he’d previously been a bit nervous about.

“The length of the needle – I’d rather get my face tattooed than get stabbed with something that long – but it was great – it was actually pretty cool.”

Bill Matthews [centre] with whānau getting vaccinated in Kaikohe.

Bill Matthews [centre] with whānau getting vaccinated in Kaikohe. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi chief executive Te Ropu Poa said their workload had been steadily rising in recent weeks as the need for community testing ramps up.

“She’s definitely a sprint, and we appreciate and are grateful, as Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi, for the support that is being given by other groups but it certainly doesn’t take us off the fact that we have a long way to go and we only have a short window in which to achieve it.”

While Auckland is closing in on its 90 percent target, Northland has just hit 81 percent for first doses.

Poa said she was anxious about the rising cases amid the low vaccine rates, and wants to see a kaupapa Māori lens over the contact tracing process.

“Māori should be included earlier rather than later and that we have a different way of assessing whānau and their needs. There is the clinical medical model with Covid but then there is also the requirement of us to engage with whānau and be quite honest about what the situation is and what’s required.”

She said it is vital the border with Auckland remains in place as Northland’s vaccination rates lag.

“I don’t think anyone from Auckland should be crossing our borders until we reach the 90 percent and that all those regions have a level of confidence and assurance they have met those targets.

“What we have before us is a target of 10,158 first doses and 19,425 second doses, so we’re a long way off and we only have a short window – three weeks if not more – to what we have to achieve, so there’s a lot of work ahead.”

While that could mean a delay in Northland opening up for summer, she said it would be worth it in the end.

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