18 Dec 2021

West Coast less than 1500 vaccinations away from 90 percent target

4:40 pm on 18 December 2021

It has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the South Island, but West Coasters are now less than 1500 shots shy of being 90 percent fully vaccinated.

Vaccination Centre Sign

File image. Photo: RNZ // Angus Dreaver

It's a stark contrast from mid-October, when just over 50 percent of the population had received two doses of the vaccine.

District Health Board staff and Māori health providers have been travelling to the far reaches of the region in order to offer vaccines to as many people as possible.

Community outreach clinics have been led by health provider Poutini Waiora which is owned by Poutini Ngāi Tahu, and supported by West Coast District Health Board.

Ngāi Tahu chairperson Lisa Tumahai said the organisation was thrilled with what it had achieved in a short timeframe.

In October before the mobile clinics were established, 46 percent of Māori on the West Coast were fully vaccinated. As of 15 December, that figure had grown to 75 percent.

It was West Coast Māori in the 20-49 age bracket that had been slowest to take up the vaccine, with 65 percent currently fully vaccinated.

Tumahai said while some in that group were against vaccination, others were grappling with misinformation.

Some had expressed a lack of trust and confidence in the health system, which was a factor in their choosing to come forward.

"There's a lot of whānau that are anxious and once our team sits and talks with them, we have been able to encourage people, once they're well informed to be vaccinated, there are still a hard group who are likely not to be vaccinated, but we'll still look at how we can ensure those people understand how to care for themselves living with Covid in the community."

In comparison, 73 percent of 12-19 year olds were fully vaccinated, and 86 percent of those 50 and older were fully vaccinated.

"We've got to work hard in partnership with iwi, with Māori, with Pasifika and our ethnic minority communities so that we can build that trust and confidence of the community and the systems we are preparing to stand up and be there for families as we prepare to live with Covid in our community because it will come."

Tumahai said one of the challenges was a lack of access to data, knowing where the unvaccinated Māori were on the West Coast as it only had information about those registered with its service.

Having data enabled the community outreach team to visit areas where vaccination rates were low.

More than 60 people were vaccinated at a pop up clinic at the Arahura Marae north of Hokitika on Wednesday.

The goal was to have 90 percent of West Coast Māori vaccinated, something Tumahai said was "definitely feasible" in the new year.

West Coast Covid-19 vaccination programme outreach team leader Sophie Carey said the team hit a milestone in the last week, with 90 percent of the region's 27,906 residents having had at least one dose.

One of the biggest challenges for the outreach team had been the geography of the region, which covers Haast in the south to Karamea in the north.

There are pockets on the coast in which vaccination rates remain low and one of those towns is Reefton.

It falls within Inangahua, which has an eligible population of 667 people and 81 percent are fully vaccinated while 73 percent have had a single dose.

Carey said as a result, Reefton was one of the areas the outreach team visited regularly as they recognised there were still people to offer the vaccine to.

"I think having a regular presence is important because some people take longer to make decisions about their health than than others, or need other sources of motivation.

Some people wanted the opportunity to talk about the vaccine with a health professional, before making a decision.

"Certainly in places like Karamea, that's definitely been a theme and I've spent lots of time talking with people as individuals about the decision to get vaccinated and what that means for them.

The northernmost town on the West Coast, Karamea has a population of just over 700 people and 78.8 percent are fully vaccinated.

In the West Coast district, the Lake Brunner area has the lowest vaccination rates in the South Island.

With an eligible population of 608 people, only 59 percent of people at Lake Brunner are fully vaccinated while 81 percent have had a single dose.

Gloriavale Christian Community falls within the Lake Brunner area and has a population of around 500 but it's not clear what proportion are aged 12 and over, therefore eligible for the vaccine.

A woman from Gloriavale said it did not keep a record of how many of its members were vaccinated as it was a personal decision made by each individual.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine expected there would be some apprehension when Covid-19 does finally arrive in town, but said the West Coast's vaccination rates were "a darn sight better" than what they were three weeks ago.

"We're definitely at the at the stage that people that aren't done, or those who are choosing for whatever reason not to, there's certainly been plenty of opportunity and a lot of effort gone into to meeting the needs of people who want to be vaccinated one way or another, right down to individual households."

So far, more than 90 percent of West Coasters have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs