COVID-19: New Zealand's oldest Thalidomide survivor gets vaccinated

As New Zealand's oldest Thalidomide survivor, you can understand why Barry de Geest may have initially been hesitant to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Thousands of people were born with severe birth defects after Thalidomide was touted as a safe drug for morning sickness in the 1950s and '60s. 

"For me, it just brought back all sorts of memories of what it was like with the Thalidomide," de Geest told Newshub. "I was really reluctant, I was quite scared actually."

But he did his research on the Pfizer vaccine and on Tuesday he returned for his second dose. Wife Bronwyn rolled up his sleeve and the jab was done.

"It's done, it's all over," Barry said. "That's how quick and easy it is.  

"Please disabled people, please come down and get your vaccination."

He said hesitancy and mobility can be barriers to getting vaccinated but no one should be worried. An initiative at Papakura Marae by disability support organisation Taikura is prioritising disabled people and Barry is begging others to get vaccinated before the borders open.

"I don't want to be one of those people that have had it and end up on a ventilator in [the] hospital," he said. "To me, it's really important that disabled people really see it as a saviour for us."

Thirty-seven percent of New Zealand's disabled community is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but the number needs to be much higher because they're at much higher risk from the virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there's nothing holding us back. Thanks to extra doses from Spain and Denmark, there's the capacity to administer 220,000 jabs in COVID-19 hotspot Auckland this week - and the potential to reach a major milestone.

"If around 130 of those are people's first dose, Aucklanders will hit 80 percent coverage of first vaccinations in one week's time," Ardern told reporters on Tuesday.

And where vaccination numbers have been low or hard to reach, new jab buses will be launched on Thursday.

The Aussies launched theirs a week ago calling it 'Jabba the Bus' - turns out they got the name from the UK (not the first idea they've claimed)

"I'm sure that we can do better," Ardern said. 

Tuesday's COVID-19 case numbers looked much more encouraging; 15, all in Auckland and all epidemiologically linked to five households with known cases.

The total number of unlinked or mystery cases over the past 14 days is now down to 10. The latest cases take the total number from the Delta outbreak to 970 - 397 of those have recovered.

While restrictions are keeping Delta at bay, it's vaccinations that are New Zealand's way out of lockdowns for good.