Coronavirus: East Coast iwi fully vaccinates more than 80 pct of locals after taking control of rollout

An East Coast iwi is punching above its weight when it comes to the COVID vaccine rollout. 

Te Whānau ā Apanui had fully vaccinated 80 percent of its eligible population by the start of August before Auckland's Delta outbreak even began. 

In Waihau Bay, store owner Vicki Callaghan says she got her vaccination because she wanted to make sure she was safe interacting with the community. 

"One of the very first lots of vaccines that went out, we got them and they did a big massive group of us down here," she says.

"We've got a couple of the nans that won't let their grandchildren come and visit them until they get their vaccine."

In Te Kaha, resident Shirley Wright says she got her vaccination at the marae. 

"We all did, everybody did, it's just something from the beginning when they locked us all down, we've all been very aware." 

She's quick to praise Te Whānau ā Apanui Community Health Centre for the successful rollout. 

"Once one started the rest followed, it was really good, we were given good information."

Dr Rachel Thomson is the GP at Te Kaha Medical Centre, as well as a local. She says there were plenty of potential hurdles in distributing the vaccine, but the medical team brainstormed ideas and used their local network to get it out to their people. 

"We know our community well, our community is a community that is really determined to protect their own," Dr Thomson says. 

Dr Rachel Thomson.
Dr Rachel Thomson. Photo credit: Newshub.

They started in May and vaccinated anyone who wanted a jab. 

"We started doing the age groups of the over 60 and over 55 that are in that really high-risk age group, however we soon realised that you don't want to have people coming and turning them away, so we just vaccinated everybody in our community at the same time."

Registered nurse and local Toma Walker says they took the vaccine out to where people were. 

"We would drive out to farmland to the farmers that lived 45 minutes away from our medical centre to ensure that they got their shot, or wait for people coming out of the rivers, or the hunters, and the whitebaiters," she says. 

"Our community trusts us, we don't have a high turnover of staff, the majority of us have been born and raised here, like myself. Our people know who we are," Walker says. 

The remote coastal region now has 87.7 percent of the community vaccinated with a first dose, while 80 percent have received a second dose now that the 12 plus age group have also become eligible. 

"Allowing smaller communities the chance to do what we've done would be better as a whole for Māori, as well as the country," Walker says. 

Māori currently have the lowest vaccination rate, but progress is being made.

"I think some of the messaging going out at the moment is saying that Maori won't get vaccinated. I think that the system from the beginning was not right and not helpful in being inclusive for Māori," says Dr Thomson. 

"If Māori communities were empowered to do their own, I would feel that is the message I would like to get across."

And Dr Thomson says she has one key message for anyone who is yet to get vaccinated: "This is your chance. You're not doing it for the Government, you're doing it for your people and we need to protect our people."