Delta continues to turn up unannounced and unwelcome in pockets across the country, targeting those not yet jabbed. Political editor Jo Moir looks at some of the unvaccinated among us, and what is being done to win them over.

People in social, emergency and transitional housing, gangs and those associated with patches, those with underlying health conditions and a number of Māori and Pacific people have all been disproportionately affected in the latest Covid outbreak.

There is a programme of targeted vaccination going on for these groups, albeit later than some in the health sector would have liked.

But what about the middle-income Pākehā men and women living in regional New Zealand who think Covid isn’t their problem?

What about their kids who they are actively discouraging from getting a vaccine?

Spend a few days in regional New Zealand and you don’t have to go far to find educated, skilled, employed, everyday Kiwis who have zero interest in getting vaccinated.

In Taranaki there is a group, many with young children, who just don’t see any reason to head along and get vaccinated.

Their friends and employers, who are double-dosed, told Newsroom Covid would need to be rife in their towns and communities to scare this particular demographic into getting jabbed.

“The Government isn’t going to be able to reach every single of them, even with all the paid advertising and other things we’re doing.’’
–Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins

It’s understood their reasons against vaccination include thinking it won’t affect them, not seeing a need for the vaccine, not trusting the vaccine and in some cases believing the risk from the vaccine is higher than the virus itself.

As for children eligible to get their own vaccination, they are being told by their parents they don’t need it.

One Taranaki farmer said, “there’s no budging their position on it’’.

The sentiment seems strong among some small-town builders too.

And there’s such a shortage of skilled labour, employers can’t mandate vaccination.

One building company owner’s predicament is that apprentices would move somewhere else where an employer doesn’t care about vaccination status, and their own business would ultimately go under.

While a lot of recent attention has gone into targeting and incentivising unvaccinated Māori and Pacific people, the Government and health officials are not blind to other challenging demographics.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins has acknowledged how difficult it is to get messaging to those in rural and more isolated communities.

“The Government isn’t going to be able to reach every single one of them, even with all the paid advertising and other things we’re doing.’’

He’s called on those who are already vaccinated to take the time to talk to friends and family who aren’t, about why they chose to protect themselves.

But the targeting can’t stop there and more focused campaigns are about to launch.

Signage at NPC rugby games is being used to target more rural regional communities which aren’t yet vaccinated. Photo: Getty Images.

At the weekend NPC rugby games had ‘get vaccinated’ messages on advertising boards and plastered on try lines, and more community-level sports clubs are also being called in to help share the message with their members.

Hospitality groups, where many younger people work and socialise together, and music groups are also part of the new Government campaign to spread the double jab message.

Religious groups are also organising information evenings that epidemiologists are attending to provide advice on the merits of vaccination.

It’s all part of a wider national conversation to target the younger Pākehā demographic around the country.

Rural groups are also set to be involved, with the likes of Federated Farmers holding discussions with farmers about the need to get protected from Covid.

Newsroom understands the Government, through the Ministry of Health’s vaccination team, is calling on any organisation or group that has a membership base to do its bit to try lift vaccination awareness in hard-to-reach places.

These are places where it’s known that groups aren’t watching the 1pm press conferences and aren’t overly engaged in any news media.

However, they are being captured by social media and anti-vaccination messages being spread there.

The Government’s own research shows there is a certain chunk of the population who just won’t listen to a message from any government official, regardless of the platform.

That means alternatives have to be found, ones that don’t involve news sites or politics.

Another way to capture the predominantly younger group is through new technology, such as vaccination certificates.

Summer festivals will be ruled out for many of them if they don’t get double-jabbed and going to nightclubs and pubs will also become problematic.

Health officials and Government ministers will be aware that in some small regional towns vaccination certificates to get into the local pub might become more hassle than it’s worth.

But while that might mean going to the pub on a Friday night doesn’t end up being off the cards for some of the unvaccinated, it’s likely to be a small percentage of the population who fit into that group and get to continue life as normal.

Something else, like international travel, or even potentially domestic travel, will eventually become a bigger barrier.

Newsroom understands there’s a general belief among Covid decision-makers that the 90 percent target is achievable.

It’s getting to 95 percent that will be the tougher grind.

The number of anti-vaxxers who simply won’t get the jab, and those who can’t for medical reasons, are now thought to make up just 5 percent of the eligible population.

Māori vaccination heading in right direction

On Thursday more than 10,000 vaccinations were administered to Māori – the highest number in the campaign so far.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare says the idea of getting double-jabbed is getting traction amongst his people and “all the ingredients are there on the ground’’.

He says Māori health providers are well resourced and the hold-up now in some communities is more about the relationship they have with their local district health board, getting good information flow between the two and working together.

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare has been in Rotorua chatting to the unvaccinated about why they need to get protected. Pool photo: Getty Images

Speaking to Newsroom after visiting Rotorua on Thursday with Doctor Grace Malcolm, Henare said the pair went to a wood processing plant where about 30 workers asked questions about vaccination and why it was important they got it.

“About six listened and right then and there got up and walked off and got vaccinated. They just needed to have a conversation and talk it through,’’ Henare said.

That was probably the third or fourth conversation with a trusted person they’d had – that’s how long it takes some to get the confidence to get vaccinated.

“At the moment it’s taking between three and five conversations to get Māori there, the last group we’re going to be trying to get across the line are going to need about 10 to 15 conversations,’’ Henare said.

It’s a case of sending in leaders, health professionals and trusted whānau to have that conversation over and over again.

He acknowledged some Māori health providers are calling for better data to pinpoint exactly who in their communities haven’t been vaccinated – but Henare says DHBs and GPs already have it.

“It’s a case of them collaborating together and using the information and data that already exists to target those left.’’

Taranaki’s uphill battle

Hayden Wano is chief executive of Māori health provider Tui Ora in Taranaki and has been critical of the “strained’’ relationship it’s had with the Taranaki DHB.

The region has been slow in its rollout across the board and has been called out by Hipkins on several occasions for it.

Taranaki continues to have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country with only 71 percent of the eligible population having received one dose, compared with a national rate of 81 percent.

For Māori, just 50 percent have been vaccinated in the region – the national rate is 57 percent.

Wano told Newsroom he was unhappy the vaccination targets set by the Taranaki DHB were so low.

“It created a lower level of expectation when it needed to be acting urgently.’’

As a result, health providers have been left “chasing our tail’’ because there wasn’t that “tension built into the wider response’’.

In Taranaki there are 7000 Māori who need to be vaccinated by the end of the year to reach a 90 percent target, and Wano says they can’t do that without the help and resources of the DHB.

“We don’t have the capacity within the three Māori providers across the region so we need to work with the DHB – that disconnect needs some bridge building.’’

Vaccination could have been further ahead for Māori across the country if they’d been better prioritised as a group and there had been more flexibility, Wano told Newsroom.

“It was a policy decision that affected it when they rolled the programme out through age groups.

“They could have taken a different approach,’’ he said.

Māori are a much younger population and as a result many have only been eligible for vaccination since last month.

Wano said whānau like to get vaccinated together and while some Māori health providers just got on and started giving the jab to anyone and everyone who came through, that went against the Government’s rollout and what was being advertised.

“Some whānau held back as a result because not everyone in the household was eligible to be vaccinated yet.

“We would have geared ourselves up in a different way if we had been able to and not been restrained by the different age groups and how it was meant to be rolled out,’’ Wano said.

Hesitancy and resistance around vaccination isn’t unique to Māori.

Wano says there’s definitely a group in his region who won’t listen to any advice from anyone official, like the Government.

“There’s big questions around how we get into farming and more rural communities.’’

Wano would like to see schools play a bigger role with both students and parents, and actively educate about the benefits of vaccination, to reach people who are in some of those more rural communities.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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