Māori-led vaccination drive reaches 80 percent of Te Whānau ā Apanui's population

3:33 pm on 12 October 2021

More than 80 percent of the Te Whānau ā Apanui area population has been vaccinated due to the proactive efforts of a rural general practice in Te Kaha.

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So far 87.7 percent of people in Te Whānau ā Apanui area have had their first vaccination and 80 percent have been fully vaccinated since they started administering vaccinations on 11 May (File photo). Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

The area consists of the iwi boundaries which encompass from Pōtaka to Hawai on the East Coast.

Te Kaha Medical Centre GP Rachel Thomson said, according to their data, there were 1432 eligible to get vaccinated. So far 87.7 percent have had their first vaccination and 80 percent have been fully vaccinated since they started administering vaccinations on 11 May.

"The numbers that we used were a combination of what was in our registered population ... plus anyone who was living in the area but not registered with us. That figure was utilised by hapū representatives who went house to house to see who was living there that could be vaccinated," Thomson said.

The roll out of the vaccine in the area stemmed back to last year's outbreak, she said.

"We felt incredibly vulnerable and were reflecting on how many of our people died during the 1918 flu epidemic. You don't have to go far around here to see urupā full of our people from that time. So we have all become very protective of our own, that's when things like community safe zones and other initiatives were implemented to keep our people safe during that lockdown," Thomson said.

"So when the vaccine became available, it seemed really logical that we needed to get it as our next layer of protection for our people."

They became aware of the vaccine becoming available to border workers so they decided to be proactive and sent some of their nurses to the borders where vaccinations were happening to learn how the systems worked, she said. That started the process of becoming certified to give vaccinations.

"When we initially started this, you could only hold the vaccine out of the deep freeze for five days, and we were only getting the vaccine at about day two or three, so we had a very short window to give them."

Hapū representatives, St John's volunteers, local social services Te Rūnanga o Te Whānau, and some DHB nurses initially helped the Te Kaha Medical Centre with the roll out.

Once they had the denominator, the list of everyone and their names in the area, they picked 30 people for the first day, two from each of the 13 Te Whānau ā Apanui hapū and a couple others in the community, to have their first shot.

"It really helped because it meant those people from each hapū could go back to their own and tell them what is going on."

Continuing the roll out, they went to marae around the area and set up vaccination clinics in the wharekai. They phoned everyone, booked them in and they turned up. If they needed a lift, one would be provided for them.

"We didn't have any extra staff, it was just the regular clinic staff on top of business as usual."

"It was a huge community effort in getting that 80 percent. People were motivated, people who had questions got to ask them and get an answer on the day. I think that helped people feel more comfortable," Thomson said.

It was not a fight to get the vaccines, but there were barriers, she said.

"There were a lot of barriers in place. They were partly to do with the requirements to store the vaccine. In the initial phase, there were really tight requirements on the temperature control and so it was really hard to get accredited to be able to hold and distribute the vaccine. It was tricky getting through the training programme. There were limited numbers when you needed to get your nurses and vaccinators through the training programme.

"There were a lot of barriers in the way and I don't think it was in the thinking at the time, that areas like ours could do it, therefore we had to prove we could. They also didn't have a plan for small rural areas like ours where people haven't got access to larger centres.

"I think if we had more Māori providers, and more Māori medical teams on board earlier we could have got these results in other places as well.

"We also went slightly against the thinking of the time that we should do the over 65s and then over 55s. We didn't do that as it wouldn't be appropriate in a rural area. We did everybody at the same time who came."

Thomson said they did it that way because she knew the health system did not cater for their area.

"Traditionally the health system hasn't. So it was pretty clear that if we left it to someone else to do our community, it would be a disaster.

"We were pretty highly motivated to protect our people. Here we know our people, so we want to protect them as much as we possibly can. We want to protect ourselves too."

The numbers Te Kaha medical centre had were different to the numbers the Ministry of Health said were vaccinated in the area.

Thomson thought it was because Ministry of Health maps and iwi boundaries were different.

"Our areas go from Hawai to Potaka, which is different to Cape Runaway. I don't know if they are including the next town over like Ōpōtiki, or where exactly their boarders are.

"We look at the area differently."

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