Pacific communities step up vaccination efforts in South Auckland
As Covid-19 community cases continue to pop up in the Auckland area, getting vaccinated becomes even more urgent for Pacific people. The Cook Islands and Niue community have stepped up their efforts by running their own mass vaccination event in South Auckland.
The Atiu hall in Māngere is hosting a three-day vaccination event targeted at Cook Islanders and the wider Pasifika community. Many arrived in their vehicles and rolled up their sleeves to get the Pfizer vaccine.
“I think it’s important that we all get vaccinated so that we can all live freely so we don’t go down to lockdown anymore,” one person said.
Another said, “We’ve been vaccinated since we were born; we get all these vaccines given to us — polio, tb — this is just another one to help protect us.”
Dr Aumea Herman is the clinical lead at the event. She welcomes all above the age of 12 who are wanting to get vaccinated.
“I’m just pleased we’ve seen our Cook Islanders drive through today. I think it’s just great, a lovely family event, collective event, nationalistic event as well,” Herman says.
The Cook Islanders are part of a series of ethnic-specific events set up to overcome vaccine hesitancy among some in the community.
One lady decided to get protected not just for herself but her family. “I came out just to rep my culture and also for the sake of my health and for that around me, like my children,” she said.
A young lady brought her family to get vaccinated for her grandparents.
“Heaps of our youth stay with a lot of vulnerable elderly, young children. So it’s just best if you are feeling 50/50 on the vaccination, just think of the elders,” she said.
More than 80,000 Cook Islanders live here in Aotearoa, and only 53% are fully vaccinated. The goal is to get to 100% by December of this year.
Meanwhile, just over a kilometre away the Niue community’s holding their own vaccination drive at the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Robertson Road, Māngere.
It’s a proud moment for Niuean nurse Hayden Erick, who is keen to give back to his community through his role as a vaccinator.
“We know that Covid-19 is in our community, so the risk is here now, and we need to do our part to keep ourselves, our family and community safe. So I am very passionate about making this event successful,” Erick says.
The three-day event is aimed at getting people to their first or second dose while using vagahau Niue to help make people comfortable.
And it seems to be working. One person had no hesitation when they found out it was run by Niuean health professionals. “We were due for our second dose today. Why not come when it’s your own people doing it? The nurses were friendly, they speak Niuean, so why not,” he said.
The organisers hope to vaccinate 500 people per day, and they’re using social media to reach younger Niueans.
A TikTok challenge was created to encourage young people on social media to get vaccinated and win prizes.
A young Niuean male who received his first dose said it’s good motivation. “I think it’s good, because a lot of people around my age will just normally sit around at home. But to see people coming out and doing this, yeah, it’s really good to see,” he said.
Pacific health expert and Niue community leader Dr Colin Tukuitonga is hoping this approach will give them a chance to participate in the event, as the Delta variant appears to have affected young people more.
“We are really targeting the young people, because they are the ones with the lowest uptake,” Tukuitonga says.
While Pacific vaccination rates are relatively high compared with Māori, the Government is urging over 65s who are unvaccinated to get the jab.
A Niuean lady in that age group arrived for her second dose after she received a call from her local District Health Board to get vaccinated.
“We went to Tamaki for our first one, and that’s when I found out [about this event]. This is good. It can help you. When you go out, you feel good, because you have the vaccine,” she says.
Another reason others are getting their shots is so they can travel back to Niue one day.
“We were told that if we don’t get vaccinated, we won’t be able to go back home, so without vaccination, there’s no coconut or uga. So this is part of the reason we are encouraging everybody to come,” one lady said.
Dr Tukuitonga’s been a firm advocate for a community-based response to this health crisis to boost vaccination numbers.
“I think if we move away from the elimination strategy, we want to make sure that all our people are vaccinated, or as many as possible, and that’s why we thought we would do this — to contribute to that particularly here in Auckland,” Tukuitonga says.
Over in the islands, Niue has achieved Covid-19 herd immunity status with almost 100% of its target group vaccinated. It’s motivation for many here who want to be protected.