30 Nov 2021

Taranaki vaccination events moving indoors after physical and verbal attacks

10:07 am on 30 November 2021

Vaccination events in Taranaki are being shifted indoors or abandoned as vaccinators come under physical and verbal attack from people opposed to the jab.

Ngāti Ruanui Healthcare's pop up clinic at Eltham

Ngati Ruani Healthcare's pop up clinic at Eltham. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The District Health Board says police are now being warned in advance of vaccination events in an effort to keep staff safe, while iwi health providers have beefed up mobile vaccination teams to help keep an eye out for troublemakers.

Taranaki has just reached the 90 percent first dose vaccination target, but it has been achieved at a cost to those on the frontline as frustrated opponents of the vaccine become more aggressive.

Taranaki DHB vaccinator Barbara Bray and two colleagues have set up a vaccination camper van at Eltham.

She said overall the reaction to the service around the province had been good - but that they had become a target for anti-vaxxers.

Taranaki DHB vaccinator Barbara Bray

Barbara Bray. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"We're being very careful now where we go. Some of them say a lot of rude things and are being very confrontational and so we've just up and left [some clinics].

"So we're pulling back on the campers because of that. Because of the safety aspect and whether the staff feel safe."

Bray said it was hard to turn a blind eye to some of the anti-vaxxers' antics.

"I try to and let it go over my head because otherwise it will just get to you.

"It's when they say they are going to be vaccinated and then come in the van and become very confrontational that's when it gets to you because you can't get out, but if they're just walking past and confrontational I just let that go.

"It is really unfair, we are just doing our job. We're just doing our job."

She said more typically the team was subject verbal abuse such as being accused of poisoning people.

About 150 metres up the road Ngati Ruani Healthcare also had a pop-up clinic in place.

Kaiwhakahaere Rachel Rae said her team had also been subject to a physical attack.

Ngati Ruanui kaiwhakahaere Rachel Rae

Ngati Ruanui kaiwhakahaere Rachel Rae. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"Someone just walking by and kicking all the signs down and the cones or we've had unfortunately had an incident where a fella has punched another fella in the face so we've had that. He ended up with stitches so that's probably been the worst example and that's sad and it puts our staff at risk."

Rae said they had to call the police on more than one occasion.

"Yes, we've had to call the police and security, and we also have made sure we have extra staff now just to make sure they can visualise trouble and if they see anything like that we actually have that extra staff on-board."

She also made sure there were couple of males in teams going out into the field.

Taranaki Covid-19 vaccination programme senior responsible officer Bevan Clayton-Smith said although the vast majority of interactions with the public were positive the abuse was having an impact on staff.

Taranaki Covid-19 vaccination programme senior responsible officer Bevan Clayton-Smith

Taranaki Covid-19 vaccination programme senior responsible officer Bevan Clayton-Smith. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"You know the occasional tooting, swearing past the car to being onsite and voicing concerns to our staff say at a supermarket site to even just defacing the mobile vaccination clinic, but any incident is not okay. They're just doing their job and doing their job very well."

Clayton-Smith said the aggression had intensified since the introduction of vaccine mandates and the DHB was taking extra precautions to keep its people safe.

"We've listened to the staff and we've modified how we strategise in some of the community event. So, we are ensuring their safety is paramount.

"So, we've rearranged how we target and utilise the mobile units to ensure that the staff are feeling safe."

He said they now operated in more visible locations and gave police a heads up about where vaccinators were going to be working.