25 Feb 2021

Covid-19: Call for earlier vaccine rollout for South Auckland amid outbreak

9:09 am on 25 February 2021

The government is being urged to consider vaccinating South Aucklanders first when the community rollout starts.

Ōtara testing centre on Wednesday 24 February.

A banner at a Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Papatoetoe and its surrounding suburbs are grappling with the current Covid outbreak - and the south is disproportionately hit by Auckland's large August cluster.

Under phase one of its vaccination plan, the government is prioritising all border workers and their families.

Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorensen said when rollout goes wider, consideration should be given to putting South Auckland near the top of the queue.

Debbie Sorensen.

Debbie Sorensen Photo: Alex Perrottet / RNZ

The area's many border connections put it on the Covid front line.

"Our border is not in Remuera or the North Shore, the border is in South Auckland. The airport is based in Māngere and, of course, a high number of people that are working on the border and the quarantine facilities live in South Auckland," Sorensen said.

The area was doing more than its fair share to keep the country safe and had a higher proportion of people more likely to be hit hard by the virus, she said.

"We have houses where we have large numbers of people together, often there are several workers who are working on the border providing support either to the quarantine hotel or providing support to keep the airport running and keep New Zealand cargo going in and out of the country," Sorensen told Morning Report.

"They are all at very high risk as are their families and their children."

RNZ understands the Ministry of Health has discussed a targeted vaccination campaign for South Auckland but has not yet made a decision.

An earlier rollout would not need to come at the expense of the rest of New Zealand, Sorensen said.

"We're so efficient as a country in terms of being able to roll out vaccination programmes that it won't be that long before everyone else will also have access to the vaccine, so there is definitely a case to be made," she said.

A co-leader of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the national Māori Pandemic group, Rawiri Jansen, said he regularly saw families of border or frontline health workers in his job as a GP in Papakura, and Covid created significant anxieties for them.

Workers on the frontline of Auckland's Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility were among the first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on 20 February 2021.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Though vaccinating South Auckland would have a benefit both for those living there and the rest of the country, he hesitated to use the word "prioritise," saying other parts of the country had MIQ hotels, ports and vulnerable people too.

Their needs must also be weighed up, he said.

"There is no ethical prioritisation that says somebody with comorbidities living in South Auckland is more important than someone living with comorbidities in Northland or East Cape ... but we can describe sequencing this, doing it in order, so we keep the whole community better protected," he said

Sorensen said those at particular risk will be people stranded in New Zealand with visas which are not compliant, who will be frightened to come forward for a vaccine in case they are deported.

The solution was to ensure vaccinators were people trusted by the community and who understood the context in which Pacific people lived, she said.

However she expected a high level of support within the community for vaccination.

The government has so far ruled out vaccinating those connected to the Papatoetoe outbreak.

That is despite one scenario in its current rollout plan that said a community connected to a controlled outbreak would be vaccinated.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government was sticking with its plan to prioritise border workers and the most at risk frontline workers.

The second batch of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 33,000 people, arrived on Wednesday and similar amounts are expected to arrive weekly.

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