Revealed: Why locals in the eastern Bay of Plenty are refusing to get vaccinated

Health officials in the eastern Bay of Plenty say in the rush to vaccinate they're hitting a wall of misinformation.

The region is one of the poorest in the country and has the lowest rate among Māori for first doses.

Newshub went to find out why people are saying 'no'.

Through the hills half an hour inland from Whakatane, in a peaceful river valley, sits the community of Waiohau.

Here the population is barely in the hundreds - and not many of them, not enough of them, are vaccinated.

It's here we met roadworker Peter, on a day off. He is vaccinated, but for a long time, he wondered whether he should be.

"Mondays are my days off, so I was driving past and thought I'd pop in and get my first one," he says.

Just a few hundred metres down the road is Bren. He doesn't want to be on camera, and he doesn't want the jab either.

"I remember a couple of years ago when it first came out, they said it would take up to two years to get a vaccination, and I feel that it has just been rushed through."

In this part of New Zealand, rush is a four-letter word. It's why Atamira, just up the road in Murupara, feels like she's being pressured.

"It feels as if my rights have been taken away from me, I don't even have the choice anymore over to take the jab or not the jab."

The Bay of Plenty has the lowest percentage of Māori being vaccinated. Just 65 percent have had the first dose. That's behind other nearby regions such as Tairawhiti (69 percent), Taranaki (69 percent), and Lakes DHB (67 percent).

But here in the Eastern Bay, it's especially bleak. In Kawerau, just 36 percent of those eligible have had their first jab. In Murupara it's 44.1 percent. It's only slightly better up the road in Galatea (63.7 percent) and Opotiki (66.1 percent).

Regardless if they've been jabbed or not, there are two reasons for why many say they have been hesitant.

The first is frustration at others telling them they have to get a vaccine.

"Nobody likes being told what to do or pressured into doing things," one person says.

The second is what they are reading on social media. Robin Clements hears it all at this pop-up vaccination centre in Kawerau.

"People are also convinced they are getting a microchip in their arms, they think we're giving them COVID, that there is live COVID in the vaccines - so it's a real myriad of things people are against."

People say when they open up their social media, it's staring them in the face.

"Yeah I've seen a lot of stuff on Facebook and my wife, she watches quite a lot of the stuff on Facebook, so she was very, very hesitant to get her first jab," one man said.

In the end, the man and his wife did get vaccinated. So did Hori Richmond, who has an idea why others aren't.

"They know how to use the apps and all of that on their phone but I don't think they understand how to look into where true facts are coming from and what's real and what's not," he says.

Māori health providers around the country are leading the fight against disinformation. Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora is running one clinic, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua is doing the same thing nearby.

But with the lowest Māori vaccination rates in the country, are they getting enough support from central Government and the DHB?

"I think we have an open dialogue with Māori health providers," says Brent Gilbert-De Rios, from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

"I think we have made it very clear we are behind our providers, we meet weekly with the Māori providers."

The Government says it's doing what it can - starting a $120 million fund to accelerate the rollout.

It funds vaccination buses and hangi events and anything else that will encourage people to get a jab for them and their whanau.

"I got a couple of little kids in my house and we like to get out and I think being vaccinated keeps us safe and our children safe," one local says.

In the towns of the eastern Bay of Plenty it can seem like time has moved on without them, but health experts say if COVID arrives here they can't afford to be left behind.