Workers from South Auckland health provider Turuki Health Care guide local kaumātua through the process of receiving the Covid vaccine. Photo: Supplied

In the quest to make sure one of New Zealand’s most Covid-vulnerable regions is vaccinated, a South Auckland health provider has mobilised and set up shop in local marae

Kuia Dolly Paul wasn’t so sure about the vaccine at first.

“I was a little bit hesitant,” she said. “You hear all these stories from the very beginning about the after effects….”

But after hearing the Māori King had got his dose and that she could get it done at her local marae, she changed her mind – and she hopes her family will follow suit.

She received her first dose on Wednesday at Te Puea Memorial Marae in Mangere, at a mobile clinic run by the marae itself and Māori health provider Turuki Health Care.

Turuki Health Care figured that bringing their services to marae was the way to go last year when it came time to vaccinate whānau for influenza and measles.

A new approach was needed to get the jab job done.

Vulnerable people like older Māori and Pasifika and people with mental health issues often don’t want to wait in line at a vaccination station designed to get people through en masse.

Instead, the South Auckland health provider brought the vaccine to the people, giving out the flu and measles jab at mental health clinics and marae.

So when it came time to roll out the Covid vaccine, they knew there was a need for a community-led approach for South Auckland.

Now, Turuki Health Care has partnered with marae across South Auckland to ensure whānau in one of New Zealand’s most Covid-vulnerable regions are vaccinated.

Turuki Health Care CEO Te Puea Winiata believes the rollout needs a variety of access points.

“Large-scale vaccination stations are an important part of the rollout, but may not suit every need over time,” Winiata said. “People will be looking for vaccinations that are local and are with a provider or context they know.”

By vaccinating local whānau at their marae, Turuki Health Care have been able to deal with each whānau one-on-one and case-by-case.

“We can get really granular with people’s concerns about the vaccine,” she said. “And if you don’t answer the bespoke problems of whānau, you aren’t going to reach everybody.”

Turuki Health Care CEO Te Puea Winiata with Labour MPs Kelvin Davis and Willie Jackson at Te Puea Marae last Wednesday. Photo: Supplied

Large-scale vaccination stations are an important part of the rollout, but may not suit every need, Winiata said.

“Some Māori are less likely to go there – it’s not the kind of place they would go, and with teething problems of the booking system a lot of people were turned away. Then it’s hard to get them back.”

Winiata says Māori and Pacific providers are not turning anyone away in South Auckland given there’s a strong likelihood they may not come back.

The personal touch of the marae encourages those who may be hesitant to get vaccinated.

“When people came in today, there were familiar faces,” she said. “At many of the Waikato Tainui marae, my staff already have established relationships whether because they live locally or have iwi links to the marae… the relationships have already been established.”

Darryl Evans, the CEO of local charity Mangere Budgeting Services Trust, was also at Te Puea getting his first dose.

He said he felt extremely welcomed and like he had full access to information about the vaccine.

“I think the whānau ora approach is the right one,” he said. “Certainly here in Mangere and South Auckland.”

Evans is no stranger to the idea of taking services out into the community, as Mangere Budgeting Services Trust uses pop-up offices to reach people where they live and work.

“This type of initiative is excellent as it’s all about taking the service to where people need it the most,” he said. “If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, you have to take the mountain to Mohammed.”

Te Puea Memorial Marae, near Mangere Bridge, has become the place where many whānau will receive their Covid vaccinations. Photo: Supplied

Kuia Dolly Paul said the marae felt more inclusive than other environments where people get their vaccines.

“The marae has a more homely feeling rather than a clinical one, as we were brought up around it,” she said. “Sometimes, when we step outside the marae environment it gets a bit… scary, let’s put it that way.

“A lot of our Māori whānau look outside the environment of the marae and see that a lot of our tikanga has been taken away – but here it feels inclusive.”

Giving marae the reins has also made for a successful vaccine rollout to local Māori.

“A key success factor has been having the local people out front and Turuki providing clinical support out the back,” she said. “This is the kind of partnership that should be happening more between the Government and Māori providers.”

Turuki Health Care’s Winiata says more trust needs to be placed in Māori providers to work with their own communities. “DHBs need to fund Māori providers and trust them to do the work they know how to do – which quite frankly, the DHBs have shown they don’t know how to do.”

Before the provider set up its mobile clinics, there was a good amount of bureaucracy it had to navigate, Winiata says.

While workers began vaccinating people at the Jet Park MIQ facility earlier this year, they had to be accredited by the Ministry of Health again before they could roll out the mobile clinics. Then, they had to go through yet another round of accreditation before they could vaccinate at their own clinic. “How many hoops have we got to jump through?” asks Winiata.

Nevertheless, she notes the process allowed Turuki and the Government to learn from each other – “We hope that the learnings will help other providers develop local options for whānau to get vaccinated.”

Kuia Dolly Paul was pleased and thankful to see the marae used for this purpose. “I just thought wow, this is beautiful – this is what the marae was made for – all of us coming together and being taken care of.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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