A major Covid testing and vaccination centre has been set up on a Mid North rugby field as the drive to lift the region's low vaccination rate — and shorten the lockdown — ramps up.
Yesterday Māori health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi opened its biggest drive-through facility to date at Ōhaeawai Rugby Club, 10km east of Kaikohe.
It will operate seven days a week from 9am to 5pm until at least December 3.
The renewed push comes after revelations that the Mid North — in particular areas around Kaikohe, Waimā and Horeke — has some of the lowest vaccinations rates in the country.
Also yesterday, the AA driver licensing office in Kerikeri was named as the first definite Mid North location of interest related to two Covid-positive women who toured the region under false pretences earlier this month.
The Health Ministry has previously stated the pair visited Paihia and Kawakawa but the women would not say exactly where they had been.
The drive-through facility at Ōhaeawai makes use of the entire rugby ground with separate routes, registration and clinical areas for testing and vaccination — as well as a free sausage sizzle for people waiting out the 15 minute observation time.
At 10am the testing queue stretched around the field, Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi chief operating officer Tia Ashby said.
By 1pm 70 people had been tested and another 70 had been vaccinated.
Ashby said the organisation had previously carried out testing at Lindvart Park and vaccinations at its Broadway headquarters.
However, having staff split over two sites put a strain on human resources. There was also a risk that someone with the virus could enter the Broadway clinic and force most of the staff into isolation.
Having the testing and vaccination centre outdoors meant a lower risk of transmission.
"This way we can protect our people better,'' she said.
The rugby club was the perfect location because it was centrally located at the junction of two state highways but not in a heavily built-up area.
Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi was working with St John and Broadway Health, who would provide a shuttle from today for people without access to transport.
The drive-through would also make it easier for families who could bring their children along in the car instead of trying to find a minder.
By reducing access barriers Ashby hoped to boost vaccination rates among Māori to 90 per cent.
"There are 2000 people we're still trying to get in. When you look at the map of where they are this [Ōhaeawai] is the central location.''
The health board's resources had been concentrated in Kerikeri, which had one of the region's highest vaccination rates.
Instead the focus should have been on areas with high Māori populations and low vaccination rates, she said.
Among those waiting for a jab yesterday was 12-year-old Waiaroha Stowers of Kaikohe.
Most of her family had been vaccinated already.
"I'm doing it so I can stay safe,'' she said.
She confessed to feeling a little nervous beforehand but didn't flinch — in fact, she said she barely felt it.
Ōhaeawai Rugby Club president Graeme McKain said his original idea was to have a vaccination caravan at the club grounds on ''Super Saturday''.
Committee members Aimee Ruka and Mindy Maihi picked up the idea and ran with it, turning it into a seven-week-long vaccination drive making use of the club's grounds and buildings.
"A lot of people say it'll ruin the field, but if we don't get rid of Covid we won't have rugby anyway. This is a great way to give vaccinations — people can stay in their own cars, in their comfort zone, and have a free sausage afterwards. The club wants to give back to the community and get people back to playing sport,'' he said.