"If my family are going to die, I'm going to die with them."
This was the stance of some Auckland taitamariki (teenagers) who, along with their whānau, were so opposed to the Covid-19 vaccine, they would risk their lives.
Now, following weeks of consistent engagement with community leaders and top health officials, these young Māori are organising a South Auckland vaccination event tomorrow designed by taitamariki for taitamariki to boost vaccination levels among their peers.
This remarkable turnaround was enabled through an initiative from Manukau-based Mā Te Huruhuru, a support group for taitamariki.
Funded by Te Puni Kōkiri, 50 taitamariki were involved in a six-week wānanga all about the Covid-19 vaccine.
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was among the health officials who stopped by to kōrero with the participants.
Also in regular attendance were Māori immunologists Dr Anthony Jordan and Dr Maia Brewerton, alongside vaccination staff from Manurewa Marae.
Initially, almost all taitamariki were opposed to the vaccine. By the end, about 33 had either received or were set to receive their vaccine.
Jahniah Taylor, 20, was one of many who strongly rejected the idea of vaccination at first.
"I was 100 per cent no," she said.
However, through the wānanga and relying on her faith, the mother of one said she slowly changed her mind.
"It's just because we'll be left out of our normal lives," she said.
"I want to be able to go into stores without them saying, 'I'm sorry, you're not vaccinated, you can't come in here'."
Taylor would be getting her first jab at the group's "Jab and Grab" vaccination event at 18 Lambie Dr in Manukau between 9am-5pm tomorrow, supported by Manurewa Marae's Shot Cuzz mobile clinic.
In an unique move, incentives weren't being offered to those getting their vaccination tomorrow in an effort to curtail any suspicion.
"We don't want them to feel like we're bribing them to come get their vaccine," Taylor said.
Mā Te Huruhuru youth leadership group leader Taquayzsha Te-Ahu-Waugh, 15, reinforced that message, saying they wanted young Māori to get vaccinated for the right reasons.
"We don't want our event to be about free things. The main focus is to get people vaccinated and to keep them safe from the virus."
Nevertheless, there would be free kai offered to those getting the jab.
Mā Te Huruhuru chief executive Māhera Maihi said the common themes which fed into the initial reluctance of taitamariki was a distrust of the Government and belief in various vaccine misinformation.
Maihi credited the engagement by health professionals as the key factor in ensuring the taitamariki felt comfortable shifting their stance on the vaccine.
Jordan said having regular, face-to-face kōrero with young people was often just as valuable as the kōrero itself.
"Turning up every weekend, working alongside them, probably opened their hearts and minds to the message we were giving."
He believed this approach was essential in seeing vaccination levels rise for populations in which distrust in Government officials was commonplace.