motorists queueing for Covid-19 tests in the rain in Ōtara
Motorists queue at the Ōtara testing station. (Photo: DAVID ROWLAND / AFP)

SocietyFebruary 19, 2021

The vaccine rollout is starting – but are we ready?

motorists queueing for Covid-19 tests in the rain in Ōtara
Motorists queue at the Ōtara testing station. (Photo: DAVID ROWLAND / AFP)

With the Covid-19 immunisation programme beginning this Saturday, a South Auckland city councillor is warning not enough is being done to combat misinformation. 

South Auckland and Pacific leaders are calling for a concerted public information campaign to ensure those most needing the Covid vaccine aren’t put off from getting it. 

Auckland councillor Daniel Newman says many people are still questioning the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. 

“We have had quite a patchy record when it comes to other vaccinations and I think there will be real issues with the rollout of a Covid vaccination in South Auckland.”

Newman, who’s the Manurewa-Papakura ward councillor, also runs the “Manurewa – Spread the News” community Facebook page and says fallacies about the vaccine are rife. 

“My great concern is that due to the misinformation around vaccinations, it will put off the people who are vulnerable and the people who need to access it the most.”

He believes community uptake will be impacted by a lack of “public confidence” in health services along with an “inability to reach all members of the household, due to issues like language barriers and people being isolated”.

And according to Newman, getting vaccinated against deadly viruses could become the “new normal”.

“Every single New Zealander, whether they are high risk or not, needs to get vaccinated as soon as possible and we actually need to normalise this as your patriotic thing for people to do.” 

His fellow Auckland council colleague Josephine Bartley, who’s of Samoan descent, mirrors Newman’s sentiments. She was invited to a Pacific leaders online meeting on Wednesday, hosted by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, and says the plan laid out during the meeting was to make use of churches and Pacific media, but she’s worried whether this will be enough. 

“It seems like the plan is at the very early stages,” she says. “But from what I’m hearing, a lot of people aren’t convinced the vaccine is safe, so we really need to settle people’s fears about it. Look at what happened in Samoa, where a small child had the measles vaccine and then died, which then put off a whole lot of people.”

Bartley says primarily connecting with churches is not enough. 

“They need a broad approach for how they do their communication and engagement, because not all Pasifika go to church, and there’s been some research that shows numbers are falling for Pacific communities attending church.”

Lotu Fuli is chair of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board, which covers the region where the latest outbreak was, and she also attended the Pacific leaders’ Zoom call. She says having “superman himself”, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, on the call was a sign the government is taking the vaccine rollout to Pacific people seriously.

“There were over 500 people on that call, so it’s definitely a good start, and it was good to have Dr Bloomfield there as it gave leaders the confidence that the ‘expert of experts’ was able to answer their questions.

“If the community leaders have the best information then pass that on – either from the pulpit or through their networks – that will ensure the best information gets out there.”

She says the government is getting better at connecting with Pacific communities, as evidenced by the fact that Pacific peoples have the highest per capita rate of getting tested for Covid.

“I was comforted by the targeted Pacific communications strategy that was put in place during the last two lockdowns, using our own languages and channels. There is a loud minority who believe in these conspiracy theories, while the majority do trust the government and will do what’s necessary. My parents were really well-informed during the last two lockdowns because of what was put out on Radio Samoa, and so I’m quietly optimistic that message will come through for the vaccination rollout too.”

The Covid-19 testing facility in Ōtara town centre on August 14, 2020 (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The Ministry of Health says a Covid vaccine public information campaign will begin very soon and targeted campaigns aimed at Māori and Pasifika will launch soon after. 

“The new campaign has the same look and feel as the Unite against Covid-19 campaign, but uses a purple theme to distinguish the vaccine from the public safety messaging and alert level content that people associate with the yellow,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Māori campaign will begin with a series of videos recognising the collected efforts of iwi and Māori in keeping ‘our people safe and feeling supported’. The Pasifika-focused campaign aims to increase trust and confidence in the Covid-19 vaccines and encourage Pacific people to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated.”

While details of the wider vaccine rollout to the general public are yet to be released, the ministry said a “wide range of opportunities are being explored, from GPs and pop-up centres to large scale events”.

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