8 Oct 2021

Health experts to work with Mongrel Mob on vaccine hesitancy

11:22 am on 8 October 2021

A health expert who will front a Waikato Mongrel Mob vaccination event next week says there is a duty of care to help inform all New Zealanders.

Collin Tukuitonga and Rawiri Jansen

Collin Tukuitonga and Dr Rawiri Jansen. Photo: PMA/LDR/Stephen Forbes

The government has said a large number of gang members have been caught up in the outbreak.

University of Auckland associate professor of public health Collin Tukuitonga told Morning Report the session will involve gang members and their whānau.

Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā (the National Maori Pandemic Group) co-leader Dr Rawiri Jansen and Tukuitonga will front the session next week.

Dr Jansen told Morning Report it won't be his first time speaking to groups about the importance of vaccination.

"I've been at the ports at six in the morning. I've been to MIQ, I've worked with border security staff, I've worked with airport staff, I've been to Kaikohe, I've been to Wharekahika.

"If a community calls out and says, 'we'd like some help, we'd like an opportunity to have some questions or talk about Covid and the vaccine', my answer is yes.

"I think it's really important that we reach out and support communities who are interested in having the conversation."

He pushed back at any suggestion the meeting could be a PR exercise.

"You don't need to worry about it being a PR exercise, what you need to worry about is that we are actually reaching out and working with communities so we get the best vaccination program this country needs."

Dr Jansen said gangs are less likely to be welcoming of mainstream public health messaging.

"They're not about to go 'yeah, let's have mainstream public health messaging coming to us and we're going to understand it', well you know, it's a group that will be distant from the mainstream messages.

"But if we really are a team of 5 million, then we do have to reach into all parts of our community, do a really good job so that we can lift the vaccination rates and get as much protection as possible."

Tukuitonga told Morning Report the meeting was not just about mob members.

"There are whānau involved there, you know, mums and young people, and we have a duty to inform them as best we can."

The government has said a large number of gang members have been caught up in the outbreak.

Tukuitonga said there had been some "hype and hysteria" in the messaging around gang members involved in the outbreak, and if rules have been broken gangs weren't the only ones flouting them.

"There are indiscretions everywhere and I don't know really know what's happening with the gang community.

"All I know is that I think we have a duty to share information with them, I'm not sure that pointing fingers at different groups is very helpful.

"We're in this together, and we need to do the best for everyone, and that's pretty much why I've decided to front up and see if I can answer their questions."

Dr Bryan Betty of Porirua Union and Community Health.

Dr Bryan Betty of Porirua Union and Community Health. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Porirua Union and Community Health doctor, and College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty said poverty is a contributing factor to the disproportionate number of unvaccinated people in vulnerable communities.

"In many ways what Covid has done is shown the inequities we have in the medical system loud and clear, I think these vaccination rates start to show up certain pockets of the country where access to medical care and engagement with mainstream medical care is actually very very difficult because of deprivation and inequity."

Dr Betty said a number of social and medical inequities are contributing to the low rates of vaccine uptake in Māori communities in Porirua.

"There's often a long history of distrust in the medical system, there's often distance or not an ability to engage, a lot of the patients I see out in East Porirua have really traumatic upbringings and engagement with the system whether that be justice, police or health.

"I think there is a degree of mistrust in terms of what goes on and that's combined with quite a large amount of misinformation that's out there at the moment."

However, the prevalence of misinformation also plays a part.

With a number of doctors recently reported to the medical council for allegedly spreading misinformation, Betty said the actions of a small minority of doctors can have a 'disturbing' effect on the level of vaccine hesitancy within vulnerable communities.

"Misinformation is one aspect of what we're seeing here, if you're living in poverty, if you're worried about your house and feeding your kids, running two or three jobs just to get by (then) you don't prioritise your health.

"It's something we see continually in the system, so we have higher rates of diabetes, higher rates of cardiovascular disease and higher rates of drug, alcohol and mental health issues and then Covid is just an extension of what we see."

Dr Betty hoped the pandemic has shown the government and the Health and Disability Review that they must address inadequate resourcing of medical systems in areas like Porirua and South Auckland.

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