26 Feb 2021

Pressure mounts to prioritise vaccines for South Auckland

9:34 am on 26 February 2021

Political pressure is mounting on the government to prioritise vaccinating South Aucklanders against Covid-19.

Ōtara Covid-19 Testing Station 13 August

A Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara. Photo: RNZ

It is currently grappling with the latest outbreak of Covid-19 and was the centre of the August cluster last year.

Doctors and community health workers call South Auckland the front line in the fight to keep the virus out and say that understandably makes many locals very anxious.

Manukau ward councillor Efeso Collins said the vaccine would help ease that feeling.

"We've seen the outbreaks happen in South Auckland so it would make real sense for the community of South Auckland to be offered the vaccine as a group of priority persons," Collins said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said decisions on how the vaccine would be distributed when it rolled out nationwide should be left to officials, but he expected it would be judged on risk.

"Because we are the gateway and because we have the highest number of quarantine facilities and we've had the highest number of level three restrictions, that does put the region at greater risk. I would expect the health authorities to take that into account," he said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has not ruled out prioritising vaccine roll-out for the South Auckland community.

"It's quite possible that South Auckland will be one of the earlier geographical areas that we focus in on but again, we've got a little bit more work to do before we get to that point."

Over the next two to three weeks, border workers and their families will be vaccinated.

Health workers who are at risk of catching Covid-19 are next in line, with the wider public roll out expected to take place in the second half of the year.

Hipkins pointed out that some living in South Auckland would already have been vaccinated by then.

"The airport is at South Auckland and a lot of the people who are working in those jobs live in South Auckland and so them and their families are going to be very highly represented," he said.

But National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti said that should not stop the government giving priority to all South Aucklanders.

"[It's] really good that border workers are going to be vaccinated, a statement of fact that a majority will be Māori and Pasifika and they will go home into their South Auckland community and them and their families will be safe [but] they're a small proportion.

"The proportion of Māori and Pasifika border workers in our biggest city Manukau is small, not enough for us to say, 'whew, we don't need to do that community'," he said.

Ranking regions for the vaccination makes sense, Reti said.

"I think those areas that are at high deprivation index should be the areas that are preferentially vaccinated, regardless of your ethnicity, solely on the basis that over-crowding increases the risk of transmission and these are the over-crowding areas - that's South Auckland."

The director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre says the vaccination programme needs to prioritise both people in high-risk areas and those who are the most vulnerable.

Nikki Turner told Morning Report the biggest risk is areas around the borders and managed isolation facilities.

She said South Auckland also has a large, dense population, crowded housing, and people living in challenging situations.

Other countries are prioritising the elderly and people with fragile medical systems but New Zealand should adopt a mixed model, she said.

"We need to do this carefully and thoughtfully," she said.

New Zealand is not in a situation with people dying in droves, she said.

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