SocietyOctober 11, 2021

Travel times to every suburb’s closest vaccination centre, on one interactive map 


Last week Harkanwal Singh produced a map showing the vaccination rate for every suburb in the country. Now he adds some vital context to that data.

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No one loves a good ranking as much as The Spinoff. However, there are things that shouldn’t be ranked. Vaccination figures released by the Ministry of Health last week resulted in headline comparisons that are unhealthy and unhelpful for New Zealand’s fight against Covid-19.

Looking at the highest and lowest vaccination rates ignores systemic issues at play within New Zealand’s health system, including vaccine accessibility. Such issues have persisted for a long time and Covid-19 has only further exacerbated them.

Today, we are publishing a new map which shows the time and distance to the nearest vaccination service for every geographic area. The map also contains the vaccination uptake rates.

The analysis was produced by Dr Jesse Whitehead at NIDEA (National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis) at Waikato University. This map pulls together vaccination service data from HealthPoint and vaccination rates from the Ministry of Health.

Whitehead did his PhD on the spatial inequity of GP services in the Waikato region.

“It is important to contextualise and interpret neighbourhood-level vaccination rates carefully,” he notes.

“Many places with ‘low’ levels of vaccination uptake also have low accessibility to vaccination services, significant distances to travel, and are also likely to have younger population age structures meaning that they have been eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccination for a shorter period of time than other neighbourhoods.

“For instance, Murupara has been identified in the media as the nation’s ‘slowest town’. However, the town has one of the lowest levels of spatial access to vaccination services in the country, the nearest permanent vaccination site is a 50+ minute drive away, and the median age of the town in 2018 was 29 years.

The travel times presented here are measured by taking the centre of the given area and using road networks to calculate the distance to the nearest clinic. This is an estimate of the average time it would take for a resident in that area to reach a vaccination centre by car.

The data might not capture every single pop-up clinic, but it does give a good picture of the access people have had to vaccines since the vaccination programme began.

App users: If you’re having trouble viewing the map click here to open this page in-browser.

Community organisations need better data to reach populations that are not vaccinated. Places with lower vaccination rates don’t need to be judged at a national scale for issues that are far more complicated than a single number comparison.

Māori health experts have repeatedly raised concerns about inequity in vaccination services.

The rankings and the “race to vaccinate” storylines ignore the fact that not every group and area had an equal start. We need this data to be public and we need it to be put in the right context. It would be helpful if media organisations improved their data literacy and didn’t go for cheap headlines.

And if it’s rankings you’re after, we have some good ones at the Spinoff and they are controversial for all the right reasons. Trust us on this one – we know what to rank and what to leave alone.

Keep going!