8 Oct 2021

'Roadblock' after early success in Wairoa Covid-19 vaccinations

8:26 am on 8 October 2021

Wairoa - with a population of almost 70 percent Māori - was ahead of the game with its Covid vaccination rollout but has hit a roadblock.

 Kahungunu Executive clinical lead Julie Duffell at the Catholic drop-in centre vaccination clinic.

Kahungunu Executive clinical lead Julie Duffell at the Catholic drop-in centre vaccination clinic. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Although it's fully vaccinated rates are the highest in Hawke's Bay, first rate doses are lagging behind.

The prime minister will be visiting the town today, among others, in an effort to boost vaccination numbers.

Kahungunu Executive is running vaccination centres in Wairoa - in town and at marae.

Its clinical lead Julie Duffell, said they were now a bit quieter than when they started.

"Like most places, we've hit a bit of a roadblock," she said.

"Wairoa at the moment - only 65 percent have had their first vaccine so we have 35 percent of our people that are unvaccinated at this stage."

They did a survey before vaccinations begun, which had some startling results.

"We knew that we had quite a job ahead of us. We were looking at 30 - 35 percent who were willing to get vaccinated, 40 percent who were unsure but willing to have a conversation and a good 30 percent who had absolutely no interest in being vaccinated, and that is obviously what has come to pass at this point."

Oryn Fasso, 12, was at the clinic. He said he was nervous about getting the jab, and was relieved when it was done.

Oryn Fasso and his father Anton after their second vaccination in Wairoa.

Oryn Fasso and his father Anton after their second vaccination in Wairoa. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

But his friends had not been vaccinated.

"None of them have. They think it's dumb."

His dad Anton was there too and said it was a family decision.

"Well I wouldn't say I was hesitant, it was probably just that it was a whānau thing - if we were all going to get or if we weren't going to get it then none of us were going to get it. Us Māori, it's all about extended whānau too, so was Mum going to get it was my partner going to get it, were her sisters going to get it. We're still trying to convince some of our whānau to be honest."

The town's only GP, Queen St Practice, based at the Wairoa Hospital, helped lead the vaccination charge.

Its director Marion Terry agreed with Anton Fasso. She said the government's age bands and group structure were not ideal for Wairoa.

The Queen St Practice vaccination team in Wairoa – director Marion Terry, health improvement specialist, Trixie Terry registered nurse Bobby Kaimoana and doctor Anne Hurly.

The Queen St Practice vaccination team in Wairoa – director Marion Terry, health improvement specialist, Trixie Terry registered nurse Bobby Kaimoana and doctor Anne Hurly. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

"In this community, this is whānau based, so we had to bypass some of that [group structure] to get our group in, our whānau in. Largely we had people just from all ages just come in and we didn't turn anyone away."

It had several big drive-through clinics around lockdown, on some days vaccinating 1,000 people.

But they had seen it drop off, and doctor Anne Hurly had a reason why.

"So much misinformation on social media that have really hooked people in and then sometimes people are under pressure from other family members who are anti-vax," she said.

Nurse Bobby Kaimoana said some had even come to get their vaccine in secret.

"They're even wearing their hoodies up in the car, 'cause they don't want their whānau to see them, 'cause they come from a little area that's completely anti-vax."

Wairoa Taiwhenua chair Nigel How, who is also on the Ngāti Kahungunu iwi board, said some iwi funds were used to get movie tickets for encouragement.

Wairoa Taiwhenua chairman Nigel How.

Wairoa Taiwhenua chairman Nigel How. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

"Basically, you get a jab, you get a movie ticket to the [local] Gaiety Theatre. As of Monday, Queen St Practice had done 840 jabs and given away 840 tickets."

He said one-on-one conversations were the key.

"A lot of people are still unsure due to the ill effects of bad information on social media and that's OK, but a lot of them appreciate one-on-one face time with an actual health professional, so I know quite a few of our health professionals have been undertaking that in order to allay any fears people have about the vaccine.''

The latest statistics, as of Wednesday, show 66 percent of eligible people in Wairoa had their first dose, compared to over three quarters in Hawke's Bay as a whole.

While almost 9 out of 10 people over 70 are vaccinated, the younger generation is where vaccination rates are the lowest.

Around a quarter of 12 to 24 year olds had been fully vaccinated and 40 to 50 percent had one dose, lower than other parts of the region.

Local organisations said they would launch a campaign to get rangatahi jabbed, and hoped the Prime Minister's visit would make a difference.

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