7 Apr 2021

Auckland DHB chair explains getting Covid-19 vaccine early

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 7 April 2021

Auckland District Health Board's chair and other board members managed to get early Covid-19 vaccinations, even though about 50 percent of its frontline staff are yet to get the jab.

At a meeting last week, some members of the 11-person board decided to lead from the front and get immunised to set an example, even though according to the government vaccine schedule it appears they would not be due their shots for months.

Some board members declined the early opportunity.

Board chair Pat Snedden, who took the shot, told Checkpoint it was an aspect of leadership.

"Is it privileged access? Well, I suppose when you're the board of a DHB you do get privileged access. Yep, perhaps, but on the other side of it is it decent leadership? Surely it is."

Asked when the entire DHB would be vaccinated, he said everybody "who is in the patient-facing roles" was being asked right now to be part of the vaccinations.  

He said about 5000 of the DHB's roughly 10,000 staff had been vaccinated so far. 

"I think the fact we've got about 50 percent vaccinated is great."

He said the board members got the vaccinations on the same day as the board meeting. 

"The opportunity arose because of the fact that we've been very solidly through the frontline staff at ADHB, pretty much everybody who is in the patient-facing part of ADHB has been offered the vaccination.

"We thought that in the context actually of showing confidence in the science and showing confidence in the position that we would take the opportunity for vaccination when it occurred and it just happened to occur on the day at the end of the board meeting.

"People were able to provide all the necessary privacy information in order to do it… Not all the board chose to, but if they chose to, they could get their first shot.

"We're keeping fairly closely aligned with how the progress of the vaccination is moving out, and we're particularly concerned that those in the frontline of the process get access to it first and that's been happening, it's been happening very successfully.

Patrick Snedden

 Pat Snedden. Photo: Supplied

"Basically it was a discussion that was had with the board about the question of leadership and confidence in the science of what we're doing. And as part of regularly being in the hospital, and what we do, I'm spending probably half my working week in the hospital at the moment.

He acknowledged he did not need to be working at the hospital every day and was not working on the front line, but said the context was that frontline workers were not being prevented from accessing the vaccine. 

"There's no way in which we are preventing people who are right there at the hard end of this getting access to the vaccine.

"We are in touch with frontline workers all the time at the DHB. It made sense for us to actually be vaccinated."

Challenged over not being in the category of frontline health workers who could access the vaccine early, Snedden said it was a bit like a minister of the Crown getting a vaccination

As a Pākehā man aged between 65 and 74, Snedden under the government's vaccination schedule would not have been due to receive the vaccination for months.

"You're not reading the context," he said. "The context of it was we made a leadership decision." 

He said none of the board members had thought it was queue-jumping, but some had questioned whether it was right to do at that time. 

"People had different views about it, and one of the issues was, was this in fact getting in front of other people who needed it before us and ... we asked that question and the answer was no, you're not, it's an appropriate time to do it. And the information came from our own senior clinical staff." 

He said it was an opportunity as a leader in the health system to show others that the science was sound, and getting vaccinated was the right thing to do.

"We actually went and talked to people about the fact that this was an important thing to do."

He said the board did not put publicity out about their vaccinations, but "went and talked to people about the fact that this was an important thing to do". 

"One of the things you have when you're talking to the population you're in service of is they can quite rightly challenge you if you in fact are not doing the things you should be doing.

"You can say, dancing on the head of a pin ... 'you could have been a week later' or something. But actually, the idea that we got in front of anybody else is wrong."

"There is a context here… there's a genuine conversation going on in the New Zealand community, and I admire the fact that it's happening, which is people are asking the question… is the leadership of this process the sort of thing we need to follow?

"And I'm saying really clearly we are confident that the kind of expertise that the Ministry of Health and advisors are giving us, as a board and as a population, that this is the safe and right thing to do - we're prepared to demonstrate that."