Trust in communities gives Bay of Plenty vaccination rates shot in the arm

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Vaccination rates in Bay of Plenty have led the country over the past week, as the days until the Covid-19 traffic light system tick down.

Covid-19 vaccination generic.

Bay of Plenty is fast approaching 90 percent first doses. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government will set out what restrictions will apply to what areas on Monday, but it is clear vaccination is the key to loosening restrictions.

While success stories like Auckland are well canvassed, other areas are ticking along in the background.

Previously one of the country’s laggards, Bay of Plenty is fast approaching 90 percent first doses.

Over the past week it led in first dose rates, and was second only to Canterbury in second shots.

It should hit 90 percent first doses in the next week or so.

However, the DHB’s vaccine rollout lead Brent Gilbert-De Rios acknowledged there were problems in the beginning.

“It took us a while to get going and there a two reasons for that. One was around the population spread and geography because we have quite a divide in terms of rural and urban, so you have those dispersed rural communities. And then you had the scale and the complexity.”

The change came when the DHB trusted communities and their leaders to get shots to arms.

Bay of Plenty was still home to some of the least-vaccinated areas, like Kawerau, Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne.

However, there were promising signs with all those districts steadily climbing since the beginning of the month and now close to 80 percent of first doses.

Just since the start of November, almost 10 percent of Kawerau had got a first dose and more than 10 percent had got their second with now almost two-thirds fully vaccinated.

Te Whata Tau ō Putauaki tumuaki Ripeka Lessels said there had been a change in attitude in the town.

“We’ve got several children now that are fully vaccinated, this is those between 12 and 18, and we have a couple that have just had their first vax,” she said.

“I think the kids are now better able to trust the people at the vaccination clinics. A couple of the kids and I did some research on what’s actually in this, and it was a no-brainer after that.”

Her school community had led from the front with all 13 of its staff vaccinated by the education workers deadline.

The change in attitude among children also reflected a change in attitude their parents, Lessels said.

So they were doing their best to tap into that.

“On the day of our sports prize giving next week, when we know that we’ve got family members that are going to be here, we’ve arranged for the pop-up vaccination clinic to be here on the same day so that parents can come and see their kids get prizes as well as pop over and have their vaccination if they haven’t had it done.”

The entire country was now only about 25,000 jabs away from getting every DHB to 90 percent first doses.

Almost 10,000 – about 40 percent – were needed in Northland.

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Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

Tai Tokerau Border Control spokesperson Hone Harawira said precious time was being wasted because the Ministry of Health would not release information on unvaccinated Māori to Whānau Ora.

“The denial of critical information to Māori health providers is Tai Tokerau is really killing us,” he said.

“If there’s 1000 people in a community, the Ministry of Health knows which of those thousand are still unvaccinated and if they don’t tell us then we’re out knocking on 1000 doors. It’s a pointless exercise.”

The mainstream focus of the vaccine rollout had predictably left Māori behind, particularly in rural areas, he said.

But he remained confident Tai Tokerau could reach 90 percent vaccination.

However, keeping the northern border closed until they did was critical to saving lives, Harawira said.

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