Tagata Pasifika

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Pacific MIQ workers swear by Covid-19 vaccine

In February, Drew Leafa became one of the first in the country to receive his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. We catch up with him two months on to see how it has impacted on his day-to-day life.

By Anauli Karima Fai’ai

Drew Leafa has had to sacrifice more than the average Kiwi to help keep Covid-19 at bay, but now that’s all changed.

“It has – like going to the gym, like even going to the movies; yes, I still book a seat at the movies – a seat apart – but for me that’s me getting back into the day-to-day basis of life, which is brilliant,” he said.

The MIQ worker was one of the first in the country to receive his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Two months on, he’s fully vaccinated.

“I just feel that I have an extra layer of protection regardless of where you may be, in a crowd… You still follow protocols and procedures, but you do feel very safe.”

In February, nearly a year since the country first went into Covid-19 lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the first batch of vaccines had reached New Zealand shores, activating the largest immunisation campaign in the country’s history.

MIQ Worker Drew Leafa receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Ministry of Health - Manatū Hauora
MIQ Worker Drew Leafa receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora

Dr Api Talemaitoga, Chief Advisor Pacific at the Ministry of Health, says New Zealand currently has agreements with four suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines: Janssen Pharmaceutica/Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

“The Government has secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer bio intake vaccine, and so that will be the main one,” he said.

While Pfizer has been given the green light, the other three are yet to be approved by Medsafe.

The vaccine rollout plan splits the country into four groups. First in line were border and MIQ workers in February, followed by High Risk Healthcare workers in March. Many have been surprised by the painless procedure, including Associate Minister of Health Aupito William Sio.

“I have a phobia of needles. I felt something, and then I was waiting for the needle to go in, but then she said it was done. So compared to the flu vaccine, that was a piece of cake,” he said.

“I just want all of our communities throughout Aotearoa to know that it’s safe and that we all need to get vaccinated.”

Pacific workers at the Jet Park Hotel Quarantine Facility in Auckland were among the first to receive the vaccine, including Family Support team member Lynette Faiva.

Jet Park worker Lynette Faiva. Photo: Ministry of Health
Jet Park worker Lynette Faiva. Photo: Ministry of Health

“For me personally, I live at home and my parents, they’re in my bubble; they’re in their 70s, so it’s important for me to do whatever it is that I need to do to keep them safe and to keep the rest of my family safe. So I think it’s really important that I got this done today,” she said.

It was a long time coming for the staff at Jet Park, where the work was rewarding but also came at a price.

“You couldn’t do the normal things for a Pacific Islander; you’re used to going home hugging and shaking people’s hands, and that was one of the hardest things.” 

“Even going and having a family dinner and all that, you had to eat by yourself.”

But Drew wouldn’t have it any other way; his responsibility to protect New Zealand was always at the forefront of his mind.

“I’ve always been a go-forward person – just go for it. I mean, my family knew I was doing it for a good reason and to also help New Zealand, and so I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it’s a challenge I would accept if it ever happened anywhere else.”

And as a worker looking after those entering the country, he’s also asking those who are leaving to follow his lead.

“A lot of families tend to travel to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, all those places, and you’re actually gonna help protect those countries. We know in the Pacific Islands they don’t have all the resources we have here in New Zealand, so if they went over there and it was an issue over there, unfortunately it would explode and ruin those Pacific Island countries. So yeah, please, please, please definitely get it.”

 

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