Canterbury’s DHB is asking community leaders for ideas to boost vaccination rates. David Williams reports

More mobile clinics are being rolled out in parts of Christchurch to boost lagging vaccination rates, particularly among Māori.

In recent weeks, Canterbury’s district health board has briefed the chairs of the city’s community boards on vaccination data, and asked for ideas to increase rates in areas with lower rates, including in the east.

Information provided by the DHB shows Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates are proportionally lower than other average in ever community board area, with the two lowest Waikura Linwood-Central-Heathcote, and Waitai Coastal-Burwood.

About 114,000 people eligible for vaccination live in those areas, of which about three-quarters have been fully jabbed, had a single dose, or booked a vaccination. But rates for Māori are lagging at 56 percent, while the figure for Pasifika is about two-thirds.

Eligible population in Christchurch community board areas with at least one dose of vaccine or a booking. Source: CDHB

“Accessibility is one of the factors that hinders those communities from getting those vaccinations,” says Waikura Linwood-Central-Heathcote Community Board chair Alexandra Davids.

She says suggestions to the DHB to try and increase rates included providing transport to vaccination centres, free food and other incentives for getting jabbed, as well as locating centres in well-used public places like supermarkets, churches and schools.

Waitai Coastal-Burwood Community Board chair Kelly Barber says it’s good the DHB is conscious of parts of the city with lower vaccination rates, and “they’ve realised it’s not a one-size-fits-all”.

“You could hammer our area and make a real difference really quickly,” he says. “Put the focus and attention on it and go, right, let’s get the east done, let’s get these areas that are lagging behind done, let’s just get rid of all the barriers.”

Barber, who’s running in a by-election for a city council seat, notes Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae in Wainoni is running a vaccination clinic, and points to the Aranui Community Trust as an organisation connected to its community which could help reach more Māori and Pasifika.

(Neither could be reached for comment.)

There are 105 vaccination clinics across Canterbury.

Yesterday, a drive-through clinic at Addington’s Christchurch Arena re-opened for the general public. In August, it was open for three weeks to jab customer-facing essential workers.

Newsroom counted the number of vaccination sites across Christchurch and found that, as of yesterday, there were 42 in the more populous west, 11 in the central city, and 20 in the east.

Dr Helen Skinner, Canterbury DHB’s senior responsible officer for the Covid-19 response, says more than 81 percent of eligible Cantabrians have had at least one dose of the vaccine or have a booking. More than 359,000 people in the province have had at least their first dose, of which more than 198,000 have had their second dose.

“We want to keep this momentum going,” Skinner says in an emailed statement.

Mobile clinics are being used to provide in-home vaccinations to home-bound people in Canterbury, and some are operated by Māori and Pasifika providers.

“We are aware that different communities have differing needs and therefore the best way of reaching people varies greatly between communities.

“With this in mind we are currently in the process of building capacity and working with key leaders and trusted people in local communities to provide even more mobile clinics. These mobile clinic teams will travel to communities and events in areas where there are lower levels of vaccine uptake, such as some eastern suburbs.”

“The low vaccination rates have been in the communities that have been left behind for decades.”
– John Minto

Many of Christchurch’s poorest suburbs, by income, are in the east. (Rates rises are an added financial burden, this year.)

The median income in Aranui, for example, is $21,300, while Avonside’s figure is $23,600, and $27,500 in Phillipstown, according to the latest census data.

Suburbs like Fendalton, Merivale and Cashmere East might seem only marginally better, with a median income of about $45,000, but almost a third of residents earn over $70,000. The numbers of those earning over $70,000 in the east are far lower: 3 percent in Aranaui, 6 percent in Phillipstown, and 9 percent in Avonside.

Political activist John Minto, who has twice stood for the city’s mayoralty, unsuccessfully, sees an irony in the middle classes baying for vaccination rates to increase in lower socio-economic areas – not just for Māori and Pasifika, but Pākehā working class families, too.

“The low vaccination rates have been in the communities that have been left behind for decades,” he tells Newsroom. “They’ve been sidelined and now’s the time when the country as a whole needs them and they’re not there; they’re not engaged.”

These are the people attacked or blamed for problems when they’re actually the victims of policies they had no say in, Minto says. The people “Paula Bennett used to slag off all the time”, who live in social housing, who the Government of every stripe “just continues to ignore and pretend aren’t there”.

Minto says the call for higher vaccination rates is deeply insulting to marginalised communities.

“Why? So the middle class can go back to their lives they’ve enjoyed in the past,” he says. “Well, they’ll say fuck you. I’m generalising here, of course, but they’ll just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Why bother?’”

Academics are calling for the Government to adopt a new, dedicated strategy for Pasifika and Māori in Auckland, including programmes led and operated by members of those communities.

Meanwhile, University of Auckland Professor of epidemiology Rod Jackson argues a vaccine “passport” of some sort is needed to convince the final 20 percent of the eligible population to get the jab. (And mandatory jabs for health workers should have been mandated months ago.)

At yesterday’s 4 o’clock post-Cabinet briefing, at which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a phased re-opening for Auckland, she said the Government was transitioning from its current Covid-19 strategy.

“We need more people fully vaccinated, across more suburbs, and more age groups. As we do that we will be in a better position to safely lift those restrictions that are hardest to live with.”

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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