At the end of last month, 30 per cent of eligible Northlanders had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. But we have a way to go before most of the region is immunised against the virus that has so far killed 4.31 million people worldwide and 26 Kiwis.
Dr Tim Cunningham from Central Family Health in Whangārei talks to Northern Advocate reporter Julia Czerwonatis about how the vaccine works and why getting the jab is particularly important in Northland.
Q: What about Covid 19 coming to New Zealand worries you?
It's an unpredictable disease. You are far more vulnerable the older you are and the more disease you have. In Northland that is particularly problematic because we have a high rate of elderly, diabetes and asthma. Northland is vulnerable to Covid-related illness and death.
Q: Can you tell us about the vaccine?
The vaccine is not new. The mRNA technology was invented in 1986. We've got this amazing ability to change the vaccine quickly by putting different proteins on the top of the vaccine, which allows us to vaccinate against whatever we like. It's a pretty amazing piece of technology. Putting the protein on the mRNA is really easy to do – it's almost like Lego.
Q: So how does it work?
The coronavirus has spikes that stick out of the wall of the virus. You can put those spikes in what's called a piece of messenger RNA. That then gets read by the cell and the cell makes the protein spike. So it's not the whole virus but just a tiny little piece of it.
When we put it into the body, the immune system looks at these tiny little proteins and go "that's not right, we better make an antibody to kill that". Once administered, the protein only lasts about three days. Then it's totally gone. But the body has made antibodies. It's so clever.
Q: Some people feel quite ill after receiving their shots. Is this normal?
Yes, it's completely normal. When your immune system kicks into action you can feel unwell. One chemical called interferon can make you feel achy and tired. Interferon is released when you have a significant immune reaction. It is probable that everybody who feels moderate symptoms after getting a Covid vaccine has a very positive immune response and is forming appropriate antibodies.
Q: What happens if I don't get my second shot within four weeks?
There is no problem with that. The second vaccine is being spaced out overseas with no problems.
Q: Since our borders are closed, this is less relevant for us. Can we wait until the border reopens or we want to go travelling again?
The bottom line is we are all going to get in contact with Covid. We've got this incredibly privileged position that if we can get vaccination rates up we're not going to have the blood bath that we have seen around the world. Just because our borders are closed at the moment, it doesn't mean that Covid it not going to get in.
If no one is vaccinated, hospitals will be overwhelmed with infections. There won't be room for other important things like heart disease, stroke and cancer. We're going to see a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and death from delayed diagnosis and treatment from other diseases.
Q: If we are all going to Covid anyway, why should we get vaccinated?
If you get vaccinated the rate of getting the disease is much less. Your rate of getting a serious form of the disease is incredibly low. Also your rate of transmitting the disease to other people is dramatically decreased.
In California in the past six months 99.8 per cent of all the Covid deaths were in the unvaccinated population. The community benefits are huge if we are not passing this disease around to people who are vulnerable. No vaccine is 100 per cent but these ones are remarkably effective.
Q: Can we just wait and see what more extensive research says before we get the vaccine?
Around 1.2 billion people are already fully vaccinated in the world. A total of 4.5 billion doses have been given. This is unprecedented. The data is out there about how safe this is.
Q: What is the big issue with Delta?
It's very different from the original alpha. It's much more contagious and causes more disease. It seems to be hitting younger patients more aggressively. And once that rabbit is out of the hat it is really difficult to get that back in. That is exactly what we are seeing in Melbourne and Sydney. But the vaccine still works for Delta.
Where can I book my vaccine?
Bank St Medical (09) 438 4379
Bream Bay Medical Centre (09) 432 8060
Broadway Health Centre (09) 401 1556
Bush Rd Medical Centre (09) 435 0692
Central Family Health Care (09) 438 2703
Dargaville Medical Centre (09) 439 8079
James St Doctors (09) 438 4172
Kensington Health (09) 437 9070
Moerewa Medical Services (09) 404 0328
Paihia Medical Services (09) 402 8407
Rata Family Health (Dr Mathieson) (09) 438 4181
Raumanga Medical Centre (09) 438 7161
Rust Ave Medical Centre (09) 438 4161
Te Whareora O Tikipunga (09) 437 0015
Whakawhiti Ora Pai GP Clinic (09) 409 7880
Doctors Maunu (09) 430 0700
Unichem Onerahi (09) 436 0567
David's Pharmacy (09) 435 2595
Otaika Pharmacy (09) 438 7835
Kamo Pharmacy (09) 435 0174
Unichem Buchanans (09) 435 3323
Shackleton's Kaitaia Pharmacy (09) 408 0404
Whangarei Unichem (Whitecross Pharmacy) (09) 222 7070
Kensington Pharmacy (09) 437 3722
Rust Ave Pharmacy (in two weeks) (09) 438 0879
Māori Health Provider:
Whakawhiti Ora Pai (09) 409 7880
Te Hiku Hauroa 0800 808 4024
Kāeo Covid-19 Vaccination Centre 0800 465 236
Ngāti Hine Health Trust 0800 272 4842
Hokianga Health Trust (09) 405 7709 ext. 709
Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi 0800 484 006 Option 1
Te Ha Oranga 09 439 3013 Option 1
Ki A Ora Ngātiwai (09) 435-4586
Te Hau Āwhiowhio ō Otangarei Trust 0800 120 916
Go to BookMyVaccine.nz to book online or call the Covid Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days)
Northland DHB COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics:
Whangārei - Northland Event Centre, 51 Okara Drive, Whangārei
Dargaville - 22A Normanby St
Kerikeri - Old Placemakers Building, 1 Sammaree Place
Kaitaia - The Old Warehouse Building, 11 Matthews Ave
Kaikohe - Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi, 113 Broadway, Kaikohe (to book call 0800 484 006 Option 1)