This week's new cases of Covid-19 in the Waikato have had a positive impact on vaccination numbers in the South Waikato at the Tokoroa vaccination clinic.
The clinic is a joint effort between the South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services Trust (SWPICS), Raukawa Settlement Trust, and the Waikato DHB, aiming to reach some of the rural, Māori, and Pasifika communities which have so far taken their time to get vaccinated.
When the Waikato Herald spoke to SWPICS CEO Akarere Henry on Tuesday, she said the clinic had only been open for an hour and 20 minutes, 100 people had already come through to get vaccinated.
"We have around 230 bookings today, but we are expecting between 40 and 60 walk-ins on top of that, so we have additional staff on standby. Hamilton being in lockdown really raised awareness and I believe we will see a rise in vaccination numbers over the next weeks."
The Waikato DHB announced the vaccination rates for all districts within the Waikato region, and they show, with 35 per cent (as of Tuesday), the South Waikato has the second-lowest rate of fully vaccinated people.
Henry puts this down to misinformation from unverified sources and the fact smaller places like Tirau don't have access to a vaccination clinic in their own town.
"At one of our one-on-one sessions, I had someone coming up to me being seriously concerned about getting injected with a microchip when they get the vaccine and another one heard they would get magnetic and a spoon would stick to their arm where they got the [jab]. One of our senior members asked whether the vaccine would change their DNA."
However, for some community members, it is not necessarily a matter of being wary of the vaccine.
"For some, it is difficult to put the vaccine in focus because they are just trying to survive. Just an example: Some of our families rely on school breakfast and lunches to feed their kids, but that had been taken away from them during lockdown. They were worried about how to put food on the table, so it was hard for them to think about the vaccine," Henry says.
Living in South Waikato all her life "with no intention of leaving", she has a big heart for her community.
"[We have] a pretty cool community, I trust they will see some sense in [getting the vaccine]. In this community it doesn't matter which culture you belong to, we are pretty much one people... everyone's wellbeing is important to us... [so] we need the vaccine to protect our community, we are able to keep everyone safe if we get vaccinated."
Henry says her goal is to get 90 per cent of the South Waikato vaccinated by Christmas. "I know this is ambitious, 85 percent might be more realistic, but I will be aiming to get the 90 percent."
So far, she is quite happy with the vaccination uptake from the age group 60 and over, saying it has been excellent. "They immediately asked 'when can I come in, they have been amazing. It was very humbling to watch their engagement."
Together with the trust, Henry is working hard to get every age group involved and vaccinated and to create a mind-shift, cooperating with churches, marae, and schools.
"We are trying to go where the people are and educate them. We have invited Pacific health leaders to meet with different groups and create a safe space where they can ask any questions. Also, all of our Pacific church leaders are vaccinated and very proactive, so on October 29 we will have a mass vaccination event for all churches."
The trust also goes into secondary and intermediate schools to get the 12-year-olds and over on board.
"They are open and willing to understand. Kids are like a sponge soaking up information. Although most of them didn't know what was in the vaccine or how it worked, they all said they all thought it is something that will keep them safe. It made sense to them."
The most difficult age group to get through to, according to Henry is the 30 to 40-year-olds. "They are very firm in their beliefs, they have a whole different mindset... [But] we are all different people, so we have to apply different approaches."
And sometimes, when the medical approach doesn't work, the only thing that helps is the "strict aunty" approach.
"I had a nurse coming to me saying she had a group of pregnant women that didn't want to get vaccinated. I knew one of them, so I talked to her. I asked why she didn't want to get vaccinated and she couldn't really say why, so I said to her 'You can't give me a reason? Okay, you go on Tuesday' and when I checked, she actually did go."
Henry says she is aware that the vaccine doesn't protect 100 per cent. "But I have a high confidence that I won't die from Covid now that I got the vaccine. It adds another layer of protection."
She is fully vaccinated and got the jab for her mum.
"My mum is a true champion. She is 78 years old and you would think age makes them more settled - not her. She was very firm and direct, she took me by the side and said 'Akarere, you are the oldest, so you go and make sure your siblings get it'.
"She also has eight grandchildren and told them they won't be able to visit her unless they get the vaccine because they would put her at risk. She adores all of her grandchildren so everyone knew how hard it was for her to say something like that. We all wanted to protect mum, so [most of us] got it. We do it for the most vulnerable."