11 Mar 2021

Covid-19: Push for all adults in South Auckland to get vaccine first

8:41 am on 11 March 2021

The government has turned down calls to vaccinate all adults in South Auckland before the rest of the country.

The new Covid 19 vaccination facility in South Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

However, South Aucklanders over 65 and those with underlying health conditions will be given access to the vaccine earlier, but those who are younger and healthier will have to wait in line.

Given that the August and February outbreaks happened in Manukau, some doctors and health specialists say a bump up the line for everyone living in the area is the smart thing to do.

The government knows South Auckland - broadly the Counties Manukau District Health Board area - holds a greater risk than average of a Covid-19 outbreak.

Otago University public health professor Dr Nick Wilson said the government's vaccine schedule generally made a lot of sense, but he believed early access could be expanded.

"Not just the over-65s and those with underlying health conditions, but in fact all of the adults in South Auckland. That's such a critical population in terms of protecting the whole nation, because of their proximity to Auckland International Airport and because there's a large number of MIQ facilities [there].

"The real-world experience [of outbreaks] would support that particular population being a priority area."

Chief executive of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson.

Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied.

Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorensen agrees with Wilson.

Counties Manukau has a Pasifika population three times the rate of the rest of the country.

Sorensen doesn't buy Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins' reasoning not to blanket immunise South Auckland.

"Even though there is an assumption that South Auckland residents are included in border workers and health workers and other categories, it is still an assumption that we'll get to everyone who needs to be vaccinated."

Auckland Council Manukau ward councillor Efeso Collins broadly agreed with the vaccine sequencing but wanted all of Auckland prioritised due to the risk of outbreaks.

"If we take a very practical, rational approach we'll all know the logic is clear: the outbreaks have happened here in South Auckland. It's important South Aucklanders are prioritised, and further to that I think Auckland should be prioritised because the last three have been in the Auckland region."

However, Auckland University public health professor Dr Colin Tukuitonga is not convinced of a strategy to vaccinate all adults in Counties Manukau before older or sick people in neighbouring areas.

He said the government had got the balance right and was actually needing to remain selective.

"They've limited that to those groups largely because I think we still have a limited supply of the vaccine, so it's a sensible, pragmatic approach," Tukuitonga said.

But another concern is vaccine hesitancy or outright refusal.

Sorensen said the Ministry of Health was being slow to tackle the looming problem.

"I think there's an assumption that because the vaccine is available suddenly everyone's going to step forward and get vaccinated. And I do not believe yet that we are responding to the growing anti-vaccination and conspiracy theorists in the country," Sorensen said.

The government hopes to have half the adult population vaccinated by July 2021 when the remaining two million - broadly young and healthy people - are likely to start.

Family doctors back government vaccine roll-out

College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty told Morning Report he thought the government had got the roll-out right.

When it came to South Auckland, he said there was always going to be two sides to the argument.

"Obviously it's a place where we've seen a lot of the outbreaks start to occur or those breaches of border, however if you look at your death rates internationally, it's your over 65s that tend to die from Covid.

"So I think targeting those in South Auckland and those over 65 and those with co-morbidities is absolutely the right way to go because that's where you see severe disease and that's actually see death."

Vaccine hesitancy would be an area that the government had to work very hard on, Betty said.

"The vaccine is safe. That message, I think, is going to have to be very clear and very consistent to counter this hesitancy issue that is out there...

"One of the things I would say about vaccination in this particular situation - it is a choice for you as an individual but it is a wider societal benefit from having the vaccine and this is this herd immunity issue...

"So there's the issue that the vaccine is not just for myself, it's for the whole - the greater good."

With the difficulties around delivering and administering the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, GPs were keen to see that strategic planning and support was in place for the roll-out, Betty said.

GPs around the country already had patients asking when they would be getting the vaccine, he said.

"That is why it is so important the government is crystal clear about when the vaccine will arrive at certain destinations around New Zealand and how it will be delivered, because those conversations are now going on."

He was not aware of any ability for GPs to put people forward as a priority for the vaccine.

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