The first batch of the Covid-19 vaccine has landed in Whanganui which is music to my ears.
So far, people who will be administering the vaccinations have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the focus now is on family members of border and quarantine workers living in our district.
The finer details about how the vaccine will be rolled out are still being confirmed but with almost 55,000 people in the Whanganui district, Rangitikei and south Ruapehu eligible for the free vaccine, this is no doubt going to be a major undertaking.
It is good to see priority being given to frontline workers, our elderly and kaumatua and those with compromised immune systems or health complications. The rest of us will likely start being immunised for Covid-19 in June or July.
To date, it has been hard to find solid information about Pfizer and the nationwide rollout and I have been very disappointed by the lack of information that has come out from the Ministry of Health.
I get the impression the ministry was severely underprepared for this process, and its communications have, in my opinion, fallen well short.
I understand that our country received the vaccine earlier than originally expected but that is no excuse for just how unorganised the ministry has been. The need to get out quality and reliable information is urgent, considering the high level of reluctance in Aotearoa towards taking the vaccine.
The research is telling us that more than one in three people in New Zealand are opposed to the vaccine or are hesitant about taking it. The main reasons reported are that they are worried about how fast the vaccine was approved, and what the side effects may be. Fair enough, but these fears could be allayed if the right information is accessible. I have done some research, and this is why I am making the decision for me and my whānau to be vaccinated.
It is safe. When Covid-19 kicked off worldwide, there was a huge collective effort globally to develop a vaccine and to get it through clinical trials at double speed. Testing was ramped up to the next level. On top of that, our own authority Medsafe then put the Pfizer vaccine through more testing to ensure it also met New Zealand's standards of health and safety, and it has been approved.
Tens of millions of people around the world have already received the Pfizer vaccine, with no deaths linked with its administration. Last week, I was lucky to be part of an iwi communications conference in Rotorua that director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield presented to. He told us that Pfizer is a popular choice for vaccines internationally and is showing very positive results in other countries.
It is effective. Dr Bloomfield told us that Pfizer is proving to be one of the most effective vaccines on the market. After two doses, he said it is 95 per cent successful at preventing people from becoming ill with Covid-19.
My community is at increased risk. What we already know is that Māori are far more likely to end up in intensive care with the virus than non-Māori. We tend to live with more people, have a lot to do with our kaumatua, have less access to healthcare and overall have poorer health outcomes across the board. In the United States, where 550,000 people have died from Covid-19, indigenous Americans are dying at twice the rate of others. That is tragic, and a huge loss of cultural knowledge.
We need to look behind us to look forward. Māori suffered heavily from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic; our death rate was more than eight times that of Europeans at the time. Many marae, even up the River, have big, unmarked spaces at the urupā where mass graves were dug to bury those killed by the Spanish Flu. We must learn from this traumatic experience and do what it takes to avoid it happening again.
Poor vaccination uptake has dire consequences. In 2019, when measles spread through Aotearoa, it claimed the lives of two unborn babies. Once we spread it to Samoa, it killed 83 people there within weeks, more than 60 of them were children under age four. Samoa had vaccination rates as low as 31 per cent, and New Zealand had vaccination rates of over 90 per cent. This is a sad example of what can happen in an under-immunised population and should serve as a warning to us all.
We cannot take our current freedoms for granted. The success of our approach to Covid-19 is largely down to our tight border controls and our united efforts to follow the rules. But it appears our success has lulled people into a false sense of security. Thousands of people are still dying every day from this virus. Just because we are leading mostly normal lives now, it does not mean another outbreak will not strike. The borders cannot stay closed forever.
There is a lot of misinformation and scaremongering out there, so be careful where you go for advice. Be critical of the information you see on social media. If you can, talk to your doctor about it. We may not all have had great experiences with the health system, but there is reliable information on the ministry's website.
Taking the vaccine is a personal choice and I am making my decision informed by reliable information from trusted sources, history, and with a great deal of care and consideration for my whānau and my community at heart. Covid-19 has killed more than 2.7 million people worldwide, and I do not want us to add to that number. These are unprecedented times, and it will take unprecedented action to combat this virus.