Saturday, December 4

Fully vaccinated Auckland residents should be rewarded, say some experts

Auckland is not empty enough to relax restrictions, but those who are fully vaccinated should be rewarded with little freedoms, some experts say.

Vaccination center sign

Vaccination center sign
Photo: RNZ // Angus Dreaver

About 89 percent of eligible people in the city have now had at least one stroke after the nationwide record-breaking Super Saturday bum.

That was close to the 90 percent the prime minister has spoken of as necessary when considering the alert level reductions, though only 71 percent had received two injections.

Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson said it was particularly good to see some 40,000 people across the country take their first blow, and the protection that came with it, on Saturday.

But with half a million eligible New Zealanders still unvaccinated, it was time to take a new approach to reaching that minority, he said.

“I think Jacinda and Ashley should take the back seat. And we should put Maori and Pacific leaders, gang leaders, GPs, in the front seat,” he said.

It was about connecting in the best way with the people who needed it, he said.

Professor Jackson said Auckland’s vaccination rate was great progress, but not enough to ease restrictions on this outbreak.

Without them, Delta would spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated, he said.

“Once Covid starts to spread, it does so quickly, so it will reach hospitals quickly,” he said.

Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said vaccination rates weren’t the only factors in an alert level decision and there were many others aimed at maintaining the restrictions.

They included the growing cases (47 in Auckland and four in Waikato yesterday), the 127 unrelated cases in the last fortnight and more contacts.

“All of that is a sign that the pressure of the outbreak cannot be relieved in those situations because we know it is just going to accelerate,” he said.

GP Matire Harwood, whose Papakura marae clinic vaccinated hundreds on Saturday, said Auckland Māori, 71 percent with at least one vaccine, was still too far behind for the city to ease restrictions.

“We know that Covid or any type of respiratory infection like that is going to have the biggest impact on them,” he said.

But Maori rates were on the rise: About 3.5 percent of all Maori in Auckland were hit on Saturday, a higher rate than the city’s general population.

Jackson said he would like to reward those vaccinated, and incentivize the rest, in a cautious way, perhaps allowing fully vaccinated people to eat at a fully vaccinated restaurant.

And South Seas chief health officer Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo, whose team reached 1,700 on Saturday, agreed and said it was time to celebrate.

“If you think about what they have done, they are just protecting the whole country, allowing the country to go back to a kind of normalcy,” he said.

He and Dr. Harwood wanted to see more big events like Super Saturday, which emphasized the power of the collective.

But they should sit alongside more personalized approaches, like reaching people door-to-door or calling individual patients, which their two clinics did.

And they said those who had been vaccinated, especially the young ones, could be used to help reach out to others, perhaps directly explaining how they overcame any of their own hesitations.

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