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Rapid antigen tests (Image: Tina Tiller)
Rapid antigen tests (Image: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONSocietyDecember 15, 2021

Why should only the unvaxxed benefit from rapid tests?

Rapid antigen tests (Image: Tina Tiller)
Rapid antigen tests (Image: Tina Tiller)

Rapid antigen tests would help protect my family this Christmas. The problem: only the unvaccinated can get them.

This post was first published on the author’s newsletter, Emily Writes Weekly.

My six-year-old woke up this morning and yelled directly into my ear: “December 15! December 15! It’s a special day! Why is it special again?” I said it’s the day the borders open. “Yes!” he said, “Grandparents day!”

Then I had to remind him that just because the borders were opening it didn’t mean he’d get to see his grandparents.

That’s because his brother is immune-compromised and medically fragile. His grandmother lives in Tauranga and is also immune-compromised so can’t travel safely right now.

His other set of grandparents live in Tāmaki Makaurau – and though they want to keep their immune-compromised grandson safe, they’re shit out of luck.

In anticipation of hopefully seeing their grandchildren after such a long period apart, the Auckland grandparents went to a chemist this morning to get a rapid antigen test. These tests give a result in less than 15 minutes. They’re perfect for families with immune-compromised loved ones. In Australia, they’re used everywhere.

Unvaccinated people aged over 12 years who want to leave Auckland from 15 December 2021 to 17 January 2022 need to get one to be able to travel.

We had decided that – given both are double vaxxed, and would be making the seven-hour trip by car without stopping – the grandparents from Tāmaki Makaurau would be safe to visit us in Wellington, if they got a test first. They have made sacrifices like all Aucklanders, but they have made extra sacrifices too: sticking especially carefully to social distancing rules, masking absolutely everywhere, and not having their usual social life in anticipation of eventually seeing their grandchild.

They have prioritised his health over their own freedoms.

And today they were repaid by being told at the chemist that they couldn’t get rapid antigen tests because they are vaccinated. The tests are only for the unvaccinated; you can’t even pay to get them if you’re vaccinated. Only those who have chosen to not be part of the global fight against Covid-19 get them.

This decision means many, many families with immune-compromised and disabled loved ones miss out. Once again.

Photo: Emily Writes

Our eldest boy has spent much of his life in and out of the children’s ward. I often felt in those early days of having him that I was watching other mothers like I was watching a movie. I couldn’t do the things they could. I had to always prioritise the safety of my little one, my whole world.

He had periods after surgery when his immunity was good and the surgeries he had were helping him – and the world opened up. Indoor playgrounds! Indoor pools! Kindy!

Then he was diagnosed with another immune disorder.

We adjusted, adapted; we have carried masks and hand sanitiser with us since well before the pandemic. The elimination period of the pandemic was wonderful – friends with disabled and immune-compromised kids said it was the longest period without illness that their loved ones had ever experienced. Because people finally stopped going out when they were sick. They finally started properly handwashing. They wore masks. It was like the world had come together to protect our most vulnerable.

Now, it feels like we are watching a movie again. Watching family reunions that we can’t take part in, watching people flood bars and restaurants while we can’t. And worst of all, we are doing it with the soundtrack of anti-vax and anti-mandate people claiming they want freedom.

A rapid antigen test: free for the unvaccinated, out of reach to those who are vaxxed. (Photo: Getty Images)

We spent the morning on speakerphone trying to work out what this means. Should the Auckland grandparents go to a PCR testing centre where there are people who have symptoms of Covid-19 or other viruses? Would this place an unfair burden on testing centres? Should they say they’re unvaccinated? Surely the chemist would be able to tell they’re vaccinated by looking up on the system? Should we just hope it will be OK? That was quickly ruled out as a risk that they didn’t want to take. How would it feel to be a grandparent who passed on a deadly virus to a child who was already so fragile?

About that PCR testing option – the NRHCC, which coordinates testing in Auckland, told The Spinoff it’s a no-go: “It would be appreciated it if the testing resources provided at community testing centres, GPs and urgent care could be preserved for symptomatic people,” a spokesperson said.

My child’s other grandparent, who they see every weekend, is travelling the other way to see her other grandbabies. Without a rapid test, she will also have to work out whether to go to a testing centre or not before seeing our son for Christmas.

His grandparent in Tauranga can’t travel anywhere. She is on immunosuppressants and has already had a third primary dose of the vaccine. We can’t visit her because we can’t travel. She recently lost her own father and couldn’t attend his funeral. I couldn’t comfort her and we know reuniting can only happen when our sons are vaccinated for her protection and ours. January is close, but it feels like a lifetime away.

So while anti-vaxxers and anti-mandates crow about their freedom, and my son misses another school event because they let unvaccinated people attend, we go back to life invisible.

And I try to work out what to tell my kids when they ask why they can’t see their grandparents at Christmas.

We won’t be marching and screaming about this. To be honest, we just don’t have the energy between constant wake-ups all night to give life-saving treatments and constant medical appointments. We’ll just get on with life as we always have.

December 15 is just like any other shitty day.

Keep going!