As Te Tai Tokerau prepares to lower alert levels, a Whangarei doctor pleads with people to get vaccinated, saying the effects of not doing so will be absolutely devastating.
There are still about 45,000 people in Northland who have not yet received a single vaccine; nationwide, that number is more than 600,000.
As the delta approaches the southern border of Northland, health teams in Te Tai Tokerau are urgently trying to increase vaccination rates.
Whangarei Emergency Dr. Gary Payinda said the need to vaccinate more people is immediate, as the health system was already struggling.
Dr. Payinda was recently on his weekend off when he received an urgent text message from a colleague, asking for help handling a backlog of patients.
“There were more than a dozen patients in the waiting room who were seriously ill and needed to be seen in a timely manner; these are not low acuity patients and they can go elsewhere, they are patients who really need care.”
He admitted all but one of the patients he saw that day at the hospital and said the pressure on the system showed how vulnerable he already was.
“Imagine if it is a normal Saturday without covid, how can we say that we are prepared to respond to a wave of covid?”
Dr. Payinda said there was a sense of apprehension for about 15 percent of New Zealanders who had not yet been vaccinated.
“600,000 unvaccinated adults, that’s like dry tinder waiting for a game, and what I and other ER doctors, and doctors of all kinds, worry about is a huge surplus of demand, as covid goes through it.”
Dr Payinda said waiting times, growing waiting lists, treatment delays and staffing struggles were already problems, and it wouldn’t take many cases of covid to bring hospitals to their knees.
“There will be a closure of the health system; there will not only be weeks, but months of having paralyzed hospitals that cannot care for people who are admitted with heart attacks, strokes and hip fractures.”
Dr Payinda knows it’s grim to hear, but said New Zealand needed to discuss the harsh realities of covid, like how many New Zealanders would likely die.
It’s not just the deaths that will devastate: Auckland University immunologist Anna Brooks is studying the effects of prolonged covid and said the lasting impacts cannot be underestimated.
“We don’t want to be in a position to alarm, but now it’s all about cold and hard facts; this virus is dangerous, it is not just a mild respiratory infection, this virus can wreak absolute havoc on your body, even without you knowing and so on. is what is so scary about this.
Brooks said it was a nervous time to wait for lagging vaccination rates to rise, as there was no treatment for the long-term covid.
The data indicated that people who had COVID 19 months ago were still suffering, and symptoms ranged from mental fatigue to heart conditions.
The threat of covid is particularly acute for Maori, with 560 cases of covid recorded in the delta outbreak and vaccination rates lower than those of the general population.
In the past two weeks, Maori have accounted for 45.7 percent of all cases, down from 28 percent for the entire outbreak.
Today, the Deputy Minister of Health, Peeni Henare, said that the covid was at the door of many houses and urged whanau to get vaccinated.
Henare has promised more announcements on Maori vaccination rates later this week.