Saturday, December 4

Covid -19: Direct action needed to combat vaccine misinformation among Maori – kaumātua

Jimmy ellingham, Manawatū reporter

Defeating misinformation could be the key to raising the lagged vaccination rate of Maori Covid-19 in the Manawatū metropolitan region.

Vaccination center sign

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Regional councilor and Rangitāne iwi kaumātua Wiremu Te Awe Awe said that some people had been sucked into incorrect information about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Te awe awe said Control that had to be overcome along the way to reach the 90 percent vaccination target and direct action was needed to reach people who have not been attacked.

“Maybe we need to visit them one by one, probably very similar to what they did in Auckland in the [Pacific] Island community.

“Let’s go directly to the community, let’s encourage those in their homes, because some believe … the misinformation that is circulating.”

The latest figures available as of Saturday show that 83 percent of eligible individuals within the boundaries of the MidCentral District Board of Health have received their first vaccination and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.

Registered Nurse Bronwyn Hodds administers a vaccine at The Plaza clinic, Palmerston North.

Registered Nurse Bronwyn Hodds administers a vaccine at The Plaza clinic, Palmerston North.
Photo: Jimmy Ellingham, RNZ

Rates for Maori in the region, which includes Palmerston North, Ōtaki, Manawatū, and Tararua, are 65.7% and 44.8%, respectively.

Those numbers are close to the national average, but MidCentral is one of six health boards that Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare has said must do more to increase the Maori vaccination rate.

Vaccinations were becoming mandatory for many jobs and industries, so Maori networks needed to mobilize to get people to get pricked, Te Awe Awe said.

Adele Small, leader of the board’s Iwi and Maori engagement, was confident that the vaccination rate would reach 90 percent for Maori. He said the board was working with Iwi and Maori healthcare providers, and was starting to see progress.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and keep engaging with our communities to understand why they may not have come forward at this stage of the program for their vaccine.

“Is it about access? How can we reach out to them? And then if it’s about hesitation, how are we going to have those strong conversations with them, with people they know and trust, to help us understand what it is. His point of view?”.

When Iwi and Maori healthcare providers saw pockets of hesitation, they would get Dr. Kelvin Billinghurst, the board’s chief medical officer and clinical executive, to speak to groups and share accurate information.

The Maori population in the MidCentral area leaned toward a younger demographic and the board was working to reach those people through visits to schools and workplaces.

Board members had also attended rural sales days, ran night clinics in remote areas, and set up a vaccination clinic in the middle of Palmerston North’s busiest shopping area, The Plaza, in hopes of for people to just come in and get vaccinated.

When RNZ visited this week, 56-year-old Elaine Skipper from Ngāti Raukawa and Rangitāne was doing exactly that. Initially he was hesitant to take a hit for religious reasons, but changed his mind.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last three weeks, and I had to do something at the mall here, so I stopped by and thought ‘why not,’ so I did.”

Taran Steffensen and Kathryn Smith are not vaccinated, but plan to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations.

Taran Steffensen, 26, and Kathryn Smith, 37, are not vaccinated, but plan to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations.
Photo: Jimmy Ellingham, RNZ

Taran Steffensen, 26, was not yet vaccinated, but he was also planning to go to the mall clinic to receive his first vaccination.

“I am still very young and I intend to go to UCOL (polytech) next year to enter the mental health and wellness of life sector,” he said.

“I know it’s mandatory now and I also want to travel later in life, so it’s a huge delay, you know, if I haven’t been vaccinated.”

Kathryn Smith, 37, is also not vaccinated, but after an initial hesitation she decided that she will receive both of her vaccinations.

“I had a lot of conflicting information, but since I work in retail and my kids are in daycare, I’ll be doing it here in Palmy soon.”

About 100 people a day visit the clinic in the mall.

Stacey Hoggart, the board’s Covid Response Vaccination Coordinator, said that people who had not committed to standard vaccination sites were more likely to visit the mall’s clinic.

“We are definitely finding that our younger demographics are reaching out through The Plaza.

“We have noticed that many busy young parents arrive with their children and can opportunistically get vaccinated.”

MidCentral’s Covid response manager Bronwen Warren said the 90 percent target was tantalizingly close, aided by a successful Super Saturday.

Typically, about 5 to 7 percent of people were hesitant to get vaccinated and for Covid-19 injections, that could be more, Warren said.

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