27 Sep 2021

'Frustrating, disappointing' - Call for better vaccine rollout in rural areas

5:42 pm on 27 September 2021

There are concerns the vaccine rollout is lagging in rural areas with some farmers having to do three-hour round trips to get the jab.

NEW YORK, USA - JUNE 13: 12 years and older New Yorkers are getting vaccinated at the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Bronx of New York City, United States on June 13, 2021.

Photo: AFP

The Rural General Practice Network said it had been asking for data on rural vaccinations from the Ministry for Health for some time without a response.

Chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said the network believed the rates for rural communities, and rural Māori in particular, lagged the vaccination rates for the general population being reported by the government.

"We do know that there are small niche areas such as Rakiura/Stewart Island where entire communities have been vaccinated, but we believe this is hiding what is a major issue for a vulnerable population in New Zealand - the rural backbone of the country needing support.

"Without the data, we are frustrated in not being able to utilise solid evidence to use with government and work on interventions for rural communities that will close gaps of access to a safe Covid future. This is frustrating and disappointing," Davidson said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it only carried vaccination data at a DHB level.

Karamea dairy farmer Frano Volkman is this week having to do a three-hour round trip to Westport in order to get his Covid-19 vaccine.

"There was a clinic in town about six weeks ago but it was poorly advertised in my opinion so not everyone knew about it.

"Now we have to go to Westport to get it done, which in the middle of calving is pretty tough. On Thursday when I'm booked in I will have to run around like a headless chicken to get the farm organised before chucking the kids in the car and going to town.

"When I get back I'll still have to do all the farm work so it will be a big day."

Volkman said living rural he was used to travelling for services but thought with something as important as the vaccine rollout more of an effort would have been made to reach rural areas.

"People in the town are talking about it, they're not impressed. We have a medical centre here so why couldn't they just get enough vaccines for the entire town and get it done, yeah I don't understand."

The West Coast District Health Board said it had held five clinics in Karamea since July and had fully vaccinated 277 people.

"All of these clinics were advertised widely using local community networks and like all our mobile clinics in rural communities were open to all eligible people, we plan to revisit all mobile vaccination clinic locations including Karamea on two more occasions prior to mid-December."

In the meantime currently, the closest available vaccination clinic to Karamea is the Westport Covid-19 vaccination clinic.

Federated Farmers spokesman Chris Lewis said it was tough for farmers who did not live close to town but vaccine events in rural areas seemed to be working.

He said in particular the bacon buttie incentive by Taranaki DHB last week was a hit.

"It's a really busy time of year for farmers and their staff. The DHB's recognition of the needs of rural communities deserves congratulations. We've seen other rural-specific efforts by medical centres and health boards in places such as Methven, Oamaru and Northland.

"Feds is sending out a challenge to other DHBs to look for ways to assist rural people to get their double jabs by pulling on the gumboots and mirroring what is happening in the Naki. If a bacon buttie is thrown into the mix as well, all the better!" Lewis said.

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