18 Mar 2021

Covid-19: Rural health workers declining first chance to get vaccine due to 'hours of travel'

10:42 am on 18 March 2021

Some rural doctors, nurses and frontline health workers are turning down their first chance of getting a Covid vaccine because they would have to take hours out of their busy day to get one.

The consent form for the Covid 19 vaccination at a facility in South Auckland

The consent form for the Covid 19 vaccination at a facility in South Auckland Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

They fear it is a signal for what is to come for the wider rural community.

Whangamata doctor and Rural GPs Network chair Fiona Bolden said frontline health staff in the Coromandel have had the call up to get their first vaccination.

Some had not been able to take it up because they would have to make a return journey to Hamilton to get it, and do that again for the second dose three weeks later.

"For some of them its going to mean hours of travel and taking them away from their practices at a time when we know there are very few people available to work in the practices," she said.

Even if some rural areas were not on the border, which the government was prioritising for the initial stages, many included holiday hotspots that people flocked to after managed isolation or lockdowns, she said.

Because the vaccine had to be stored super cold, it was it trickier from a logistical standpoint.

Waikato DHB said at the moment the only hub for vaccinations was Hamilton.

A spokesperson said the initial doses offered to health staff were left over from the border worker roll out and they wanted rural GPs to have the chance to get one if they could.

When routine vaccinations began for all frontline health workers in about three weeks, rural settings would be included, he said

Dr Bolden said rural health staff just wanted the same opportunities as city workers.

There needed to be systems to transport it around so all rural people would have a fair chance to be vaccinated, she said.

The Ministry of Health has said it is purchasing dozens of smaller freezers to help it roll the vaccine out to smaller centres when the time comes.

The vaccine has yet to be rolled out at all in four largely rural areas including the West Coast, Wairarapa, Manawatu (MidCentral DHB) and Whanganui.

Ultra-low temperature freezers which will be used to store Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine vials.

Ultra-low temperature freezers used to store Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine vials. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

MidCentral DHB said it will begin vaccinating at the end of this month.

Dr Bolden worried it was another sign of inequities for rural people in the vaccine rollout.

Wairarapa DHB and MidCentral DHB said any border workers living in the regions could be vaccinated at their workplaces.

Whanganui and West Coast were in the same boat, with vaccination preparations under way, and due to start late this month for Whanganui and early next month for the West Coast.

When asked about the rollout in general, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday the timing was constrained by the amount of vaccine available, with doses being imported in batches from Pfizer.

That was why the populations who were more at risk were prioritised, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs