Freshly prepared kai, musical entertainment and hardworking staff have led Ngāti Hine Health Trust to successfully administer more than 4500 Covid-19 vaccine doses in less than two months.
Ngāti Hine's dedicated Torongare Covid vaccination clinic in Whangārei is the largest in Northland, with a capacity to vaccine 500 people a day.
The Māori NGO, which began its vaccine drive on May 26, has administered 4557 doses (8.9 per cent of 50,913 vaccines administered in Northland) as of July 4, at its four centres – Whangārei, Moerewa, Russell and Pipiwai - which brings it to the second-highest number of vaccines delivered after the Northland District Health Board.
The Russell initiative is a partnership between Ngāti Hine Health Trust and the local branch of St John, but also involves a broad cross-section of the community.
Ngāti Hine Health Trust CEO, Geoff Milner, claims the Torongare vaccination centre is the best in Northland.
"This is from the feedback we have received from the people who have also experienced the other NDHB sites. The feedback from predominantly non-Māori people who are turning up to the clinics has been a first-class experience."
Of the 4557 doses delivered by Ngāti Hine's vaccine drive, 1082 doses were administered to Māori.
Milner said the perception that Māori health providers only vaccinated Māori people had never been true.
"It is important to realise that Māori health providers were largely created to make sure that equity is achieved in the Māori and Pacifika communities. Given that the over 65 age group, the percentage of Māori who is that age are small, the 65 to 70 per cent of people we have vaccinated over 65 are non-Māori."
He attributed the success of their Covid vaccine drive to; "firstly, a woman designed our vaccination clinic, which is always a great start; and secondly, it was built on the basis of providing service, not just vaccine."
All four clinics offered kai and a hot drink for the people waiting 20 minutes for the mandatory observation, a guitar player to keep the people entertained and, Milner said, most importantly it was the magic in their staff who believed in the concept of manaakitanga.
"I think we are able to provide that service at all of our clinics – Whangārei, Russell, Moerewa, and Pipiwai – because as the largest Māori NGO, we can put the people resource into the clinic to provide that experience from a range of disciplines; from our housing team, social service team, youth teams, we all rally around to make the experience."
Out of the 4008 doses administered for the week ending July 4 in Northland, around 840 doses (21 per cent) were administered in Whangārei's Torongare clinic.
The clinic had managed to secure a large chunk of vaccines that needed to be spread out in Northland, said Milner.
"Our priority groups are Māori and Pacifica, but equally we have prioritised anyone over the age of 65. We will vaccinate any Māori whanau over 16."
Milner said they believed the vaccination drive was a marathon and not a sprint.
"It is a big week for our workforce. It is important to acknowledge DHB and other social workers who put their efforts into the job to support that flow. We have to realise that there has to be a balance between the vaccination work and the core work.
"Another reason Ngati Hine is able to do such a job is we have services other than just health services which could lean people towards the cause, and we had an opportunity in Whangārei to create a whole ground floor of a building dedicated to the drive."
The clinic was originally designed for a whānau engagement hub but they had to put a pause and developed a purpose build vaccination clinic.
But the experience is the same in all our centres, said Milner.
"The starting point is our service and manaakitanga. The evaluation forms are consistent with the great experience feedback. We are continuing to try and encourage the Māori and Pacific population to get involved in the vaccination process.
"There is a lot of collaboration and cooperation going on between primary care pharmacies, Māori health providers and the Northland DHB."
Speaking on the hesitancy towards getting the vaccine, Milner said they had not seen any since they started, but he is concerned about the potential hesitancy from the younger age group as they get beyond the 'worried well' period.
"People have been falling over themselves to get vaccinated.
"We will just have to keep turning up, being available, and the experience of the people in the clinics will attract others. Our Māori health providers have been out there in the communities having conversations with the Māori community and providing an appropriate assurance for their wellbeing.
"As you go into the younger cohort, I think the hesitancy will grow and there is a deliberate anti-vaccination group in Northland who are very active. We will just work through and keep doing what we are doing.
"Ngāti Hine Health Trust is there to serve the Northland community as best as we can and we are proud of what we have achieved."
Milner said the hardest working people in the vaccination drive were actually the unseen people.
The people who worked in a little room with bright lights, drawing up the vaccine needles from the vials that went to the nurses; it was a tough job and they needed to be acknowledged, said Milner.
NDHB Rural, Family and Community general manager, Jeanette Wedding, said the Ministry of Health provided Northland DHB with the vaccine to deliver the production plan - currently over 5400 doses a week.
"Based on current estimates, which are currently being revised by the Ministry of Health, we believe that we have vaccinated about a third of Group 3. Everyone in Group 3 will be invited by the end of July to book their vaccination.
"We want to reassure everyone that even if your appointment is some weeks away, there will be enough vaccination for everyone. Northland aims to complete Group 3 by the end of September."
NDHB had been vaccinating 5400 people on average per week and from late July, they would start to see a supply increase.
"This means we'll commence a significant ramping up of the programme across the region, and we will see more general practices and pharmacies start vaccinating from the beginning of August which will increase capacity.
"Northland DHB is also opening up new appointment slots as supply constraints ease."
As of July 4, 21.8 per cent of those aged 16 and above in Northland (153,000) had received their first dose of the vaccine and 11.8 per cent of those aged 16 and above had received both doses of the vaccine. A higher proportion of Māori was vaccinated by Māori Health providers (42 per cent), whereas 14.9 per cent of NDHB vaccinations were received by Māori.
Eligible Northlanders (those over 16): 153,000
Received first dose - 21.8 per cent
Received both doses - 11.8 per cent.
Total doses given - 50,913
Doses for Māori by Māori Health providers - 42 per cent
Doses done by NDHB every week - 5400-plus.