This year we've seen the most significant demands on our health services across the Bay in our history.
Seriously unwell ED presentations have grown significantly, our GPs and aged residential care services have been stretched and our hospitals have been utilising every available bed during winter to care for the number of very unwell people being admitted.
This is largely due to the population surge we've seen since last August, but it's also without Covid.
Despite this unprecedented level of care need, our network of healthcare providers across Te Moana a Toi have also risen to the challenge of Covid, with an army of people moving between day jobs, Covid swabbing, contact tracing and now vaccinating.
As of Tuesday, we've seen 251,000 vaccinations in the Bay, and my sincere thanks go to those who have grabbed a jab.
While this is a great result, it simply isn't enough.
In order for us to reach the very important minimum 90 per cent full vaccination rate (ie both doses) there needs to be another 145,000 vaccinations taken up across our region - 40,000 first doses and 105,000 second doses.
This is an imperative that none of us have seen in our lifetime, but this is real. We must do everything we can to protect ourselves and those we love by taking up the vaccination opportunity while there is still time.
The Bay of Plenty DHB region extends from Waihi Beach to Cape Runaway and inland to Murupara and the surrounds.
While our vaccinator network - which includes Hauora providers, GPs, pharmacies and DHB-provided services - will be making all possible means available for people to get their two vaccine doses before Christmas, we now need to move our outbreak preparedness to the next level.
We know there are plenty of great reasons to live, work and play in the Bay, so we're providing plenty of vaccination opportunities over the next 12 weeks.
Our network will be doing everything they can to make grabbing a jab as easy and convenient as possible – walk-in clinics, drive through vaccinations, pop-up centres, events.
Global accounts tell us that Covid-19 is now essentially a disease of the unvaccinated, and with both vaccine hesitancy and anti-vax sentiment high in many areas in the Bay we have a significant risk on our hands if we don't see a jump in the numbers vaccinated over the next two to three weeks.
Over the summer many people will come to the Bay and this will raise our risk of incoming Covid carriers. That will be followed in the New Year by the imperative to open our borders.
It's now time for anyone not yet vaccinated to make a call. You have a right to say no, but with that right comes additional responsibilities – how are you going to keep yourself and your whānau safe when Covid is here in the Bay?
If you have remaining questions, now is the time to get them answered – but get the answers from someone who really knows the facts, like your GP or healthcare staff.
Achieving the level of protection needed in the Bay requires all of us to play a part. We ask businesses to support staff by giving them time to get vaccinated, schools to support onsite vaccination for anyone aged 12 and over, families, marae and churches to encourage and support each other in getting vaccine-safe together, gang leaders, community leaders and influencers to join our voices in making sure everyone understands the urgency of this ticking clock.
Aotearoa has done an amazing job but our defences can't hold out against Delta for much longer.
As we move into this critical three-month period before Christmas our hospitals in Whakatāne and Tauranga now need to move our outbreak readiness to the next level based on current vaccination rates in the Bay.
Here's what we're doing:
- Appointing six additional intensive care doctors
- Not employing new frontline care staff who are unwilling to be vaccinated
- Partially closing one of our wards to create a negative pressure area for Covid patients
- Upgrading our intensive care unit in readiness for a larger number of Covid patients needing ventilator care
- Training non-ICU staff to be able to support "very sick patients" where numbers exceed our available ICU beds
- Identifying overflow beds outside our hospital wards
- Trialling 'vaccinated staff only' areas so that our most unwell patients are safe and have maximum protection from Covid. This will begin in October/November in the Tauranga hospital's intensive care unit.
- Contingency planning for the possibility that Covid patient volumes require us to implement home or community-care models.
We're doing everything we can do to vaccinate as many people as possible and at the same time prepare for the unvaccinated. We're now calling on all residents in every community across the Bay to do your bit, because time is running out.
Please get vaccinated!
- Pete Chandler is the chief executive of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board