8 Oct 2021

Inaccessibility of rural healthcare reflected in low vaccination rates - expert

9:52 am on 8 October 2021

The West Coast is behind the rest of the mainland when it comes to uptake of the Covid vaccine, down as low as 71 percent for first jabs, compared to 80 percent in the rest of Te Wai Pounamu.

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Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A rural health expert says the same picture is repeated in remote areas around the country and this is a reflection of poor access to health services in the countryside in general.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said the local DHB had been pulling out all the stops to make the vaccine available through the likes of drop in clinics, but there was no escaping the challenges posed by the tyranny of distance.

"For the DHB of course it's 606 kilometers from Karamea to Haast, it's a big area. So while the figures are lower than say some of the cities, I actually think they're doing really well."

Mayor Smith insisted most coasters were happy to receive the jab.

"There's the odd person wanders around putting leaflets in letterboxes and attempting to discourage other people. I don't care if those people don't get vaccinated, that's a personal choice, but those people need to put their tin hats back on and just look after themselves, and stop trying to create dis-information."

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said turnout to a pop up clinic in Westport last weekend was disappointing, with far more doses available than there were people there to receive them.

"We will have, you know, hardcore groups of people who are anti-vax. But they're not wildly prevalent. There's obviously some people with that view but I think most people will present for jab in due course, I would like to think."

Otago University associate professor and rural health expert Garry Nixon was not surprised by the low uptake, and said the countryside was generally poorer, had an under-resourced health system and required people to travel a long way to get to the doctor.

He said for the same reasons, rural people were also likely to suffer the most in any outbreak.

"Based on data that we've seen that comes out of the US and the latter waves of the pandemic, there has been a higher number of Covid cases in rural areas and poor outcomes as well."

As with most of the country, uptake amongst Māori was even lower, running at just 58 percent for first doses in Te Tai o Poutini.

The Whānau Ora Community Clinic had the contract to offer the vaccine at medical centres around the country including in Te Wai Pounamu.

Its founder George Ngatai said it was a marathon, not a sprint, and for Māori around the country, reaching the magic number of 90 percent coverage might take until April next year.

"If you were to take Covid away, our rates in terms of coming in to be vaccinated or doing our regular checks, are sort of along similar lines of non engagement, and we've got to sort of be innovators and try and find better ways to actually get services out to communities."

Garry Nixon was looking forward to the release of more detailed data that would allow health authorities to better target the vaccine rollout to communities that were falling behind the rest of the team of five million.

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