Pacific community at most risk of relaxed Covid-19 restrictions – Counties Manukau DHB member


The Pacific Island community will bear the burden of risks of lifting Covid-19 restrictions, says a Counties Manukau District Health Board member.

Hutt Hospital Covid-19 ICU ventilator

Counties Manukau District Health Board member Apulu Reece Autagavaia says the Pacific Island community are bearing the brunt of hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Apulu Reece Autagavaia told this morning’s meeting of the health board that the Pacific Island community had higher rates of vulnerable people.

He said there was a mixed message from the government with people told to go out and gather, despite advice that the community had not yet reached herd immunity.

“It’s a mixed message for people out there, for Pacific people. The government are saying we can gather and go to all these places, but on the other hand in terms of reaching herd immunity, we haven’t reached it yet.

“We’re the scapegoats in this, we are the ones bearing the deaths, the infections for the sake of opening up for the rest of mainstream New Zealand.

“It is something many people have predicted – that we will become another statistics for another illness. It’s sad, I feel like we are the lambs being put to slaughter.”

Autagavaia said there were many reason people were not getting vaccinated against the virus, but one was that many people felt the booster was not needed since the government had started relaxing restrictions.

Press conference at Middlemore discussing burns patients from the Whakaari/White Island  eruption.  Pictured is Dr John Kenealy, the Clinical Director of Surgery and Perioperative Services at Middlemore Hospital.

Covid Vaccination Programme manager Kitty McQuilkin says there needs to be a new approach to keep encouraging uptake of Covid-19 vaccines. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The health board also heard from Covid Vaccination Programme manager Kitty McQuilkin on concerns about the growing gap between vaccination rates for Māori children and the wider population of children.

McQuilkin said 54 percent of children aged 5 to 11 in the district had been double-dosed, but only 33 percent of Māori children have had one dose, and 49 percent of Pacific Island children.

She said the areas with low child vaccination rates almost exactly mirror the areas with low booster rates.

The areas with particularly low rates were Mangere, Ōtara, Manurewa, Papakura, and some parts of Franklin and Manukau.

She told the board they would need to take a new approach to encouraging Covid-19 vaccines to address the issue.

McQuilkin said new measures her team were looking at include tailoring information and providing it within a trusted environment, meeting with whānau where they are, and a move away from large events.

She said there were a number of possible reasons for the lower uptake of the children’s vaccines, including the lack of mandates, Covid-19 fatigue, and people unsure about the risk versus benefit of the vaccine for children.

“There has been a strong message that Omicron is not a severe disease in children and so there was quite a lot of apathy from parents saying ‘why would I bother then, and where I don’t know and understand enough about this vaccine I don’t think this is for me’.

“And there was also a very strong and vocal anti-vaccination campaign which has resonated with parents.”

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