Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern believes Northland can hit the Government’s 90 per cent vaccination target even though health providers still need to persuade another 17,000-plus people to get their first jab.
Ardern spent Tuesday visiting towns and clinics across the Mid North, meeting health workers and trying to boost the region’s sluggish vaccination rates.
Currently Northland has the second lowest rate in the country — 65 per cent doubled-dosed, 79 per cent at least one dose — with some of the obstacles facing the vaccination drive evident during the Prime Minister’s visit.
A press conference in Kawakawa had to be cut short and reconvened behind the new Te Hononga centre when it was interrupted by a protester and a man claiming to be a reporter questioning the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine.
Ardern said such voices were few in number but they were loud.
Also on Tuesday Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis announced an extra $4.6 million to lift Māori vaccination rates in Northland, from a $120m fund established last week.
The cash will pay for mobile vaccination clinics, youth events and targeted communications in priority areas such as Kaikohe, Otangarei, Raumanga and Kaitaia.
The Government has said it will move from the current lockdowns and alert level system to a new Covid-19 Protection Framework, or the ‘traffic light system’, once every region hits the 90 per cent double-vaxed rate.
Ardern said it concerned her that some people maintained the virus was not present in Northland.
”One of the things I still hear is that Covid is not here. My very strong message to Northland is, of course we don’t want it to be here and we’re doing everything we can to stop it, but it would be wrong to say it won’t move. It’s a virus. It will come to people’s doors and it will find the unvaccinated,” she said.
”The thing we need to do is reach everyone, before the virus does.”
Ardern’s tour began in the west where she visited Hauora Hokianga clinics in Rawene and Taheke, accompanied by MPs Kelvin Davis (Tai Tokerau), Willow-Jean Prime (Northland) and Emily Henderson (Whangārei).
Hauora Hokianga chief executive Margareth Broodkoorn told Ardern Northland’s newest cases had been a reality check.
“Many people have felt quite protected here seeing as we are quite isolated, but like I keep telling them — Covid-19 isn’t in your backyard, it’s at your front door and it wants to come in.”
She then travelled to Kawakawa to see a mobile clinic run by Ngāti Hine Health Trust outside the new Te Hononga centre.
There she was welcomed by kaumātua Waihoroi Shortland, who joked that Ngāti Hine would cover the costs of her upcoming nuptials if she agreed to shift her wedding north.
”We’ll even allow any chef of your choice to supervise the hāngī,” he said.
Later she mingled with health workers and Rugby for Life representatives whose Take Two for the Team initiative encourages Northlanders to get the jab while raising money for grassroots sports teams.
Earlier a media conference outside Te Hononga was drowned out by a woman singing and chanting as she held a baby. Issues she raised included Ngāpuhi not ceding sovereignty.
Then the conference was cut short and reconvened around the side of the building after interruptions from Whangārei-based US citizen Shane Chafin of Counterspin Media, a far-right talk show streamed on the GTV network founded by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
He demanded Ardern name a woman who died of complications after the Pfizer jab and made claims about the vaccine’s lack of efficacy in Israel.
As the conference was halted Chafin’s cameraman shouted ”prime sinister” and ”they’re all fake”.
It is understood they left after being spoken to by police.
Ardern ended her tour with a visit to the Ngāpuhi Super Clinic at Ōhaeawai Rugby Club, where Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi offers vaccination and Covid tests seven days a week.
Ardern told the Advocate she believed Tai Tokerau could still reach 90 per cent vaccination.
Factors that made the target harder to reach in Northland included its many isolated rural communities, access and availability issues, and a young population. Misinformation was also a problem but Northland was not alone in that, she said.
Local health providers would be supported to be innovative and set up mobile vaccination clinics in places where people congregated, she said.
The Government would be pragmatic if Northland couldn’t reach 90 per cent.
”We’ve taken a pretty bullish approach of saying it’s in the best interest of all of us to get those high vaccination rates. Keep in mind even with 90 per cent that represents 400,000 people who are not vaccinated. We’ll check in on November 29 to see how the different health boards are tracking but at the moment we’ll keep powering towards that goal.”
There were no immediate plans to open up the border between Northland and Auckland but the Government was working on ways of allowing travel in time for Christmas.
”We know there’ll be a lot of demand at Christmas time so we’re trying to find ways we can manage a very busy border of tens of thousands of people who would traditionally move either side … if we are able to do it, it will involve vaccinations.”
That was another reason to get jabbed, she said.
She did not offer hope of a travel corridor for Northlanders travelling through Auckland to level 2 areas further south, saying it would be difficult to manage safely while also keeping freight flowing.
Details of the new ‘traffic light system’ were still being worked out but vaccination certificates would be required to attend large public events.
However, no one would be excluded from health services, food or retail.
Ardern acknowledged that would divide people by vaccination status, something she had not previously wanted.
”We had a call to make whether we wanted to use a tool that has been used overseas to bring back large-scale events. Our view was, on balance, we wanted to bring them back but we wanted a way to do it safely … People will still have choices, but if they are not vaccinated there will just be some things they can’t do.”
Her own reasons for getting vaccinated were a combination of the political and the personal.
”I couldn’t ask people to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, so I did the research and read the evidence so I can say hand on heart it’s safe and effective. I also did it for an extra personal reason, for my daughter,” she said.
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