Covid-19 delta outbreak: ‘Disappointing, disappointing’ – a call to improve vaccine rollout in rural areas

Twelve new community cases of Covid-19 were announced Monday, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined the experience of self-isolation for international travelers and the resumption of the RSE travel bubble for the Pacific region. Video / NZ Herald

By Sally Murphy of RNZ

There are concerns that vaccine rollout is late in rural areas, where some farmers have to make three-hour round trips to get the vaccine.

The General Rural Practices Network said it had been requesting data on rural vaccinations from the Ministry of Health for some time without a response.

Chief Executive Officer Dr. Grant Davidson said the network believes that rates for rural communities, and rural Maori in particular, lag behind vaccination rates for the general population reported by the government.

“We know that there are small specialist areas like Rakiura/Stuart Island where entire communities have been vaccinated, but we believe this masks a major problem for the vulnerable population in New Zealand – the rural backbone of the country in need of support.

“Without the data, we are frustrated that we are unable to use strong evidence to use with government and work on interventions for rural communities that will close the gaps in accessing a safe future for Covid. This is frustrating and disappointing,” Davidson said.

The Ministry of Health, in a statement, said it carries vaccination data at the DHB level only.

This week, Frano Volkmann, a dairy farmer in Karameh, is forced to make a three-hour round trip to Westport in order to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

“There was a clinic in town about six weeks ago, but it wasn’t very well advertised in my opinion, so not everyone was aware of it.

The Ministry of Health said it carries vaccination data at the DHB level only.  Photo/ Bevan Conley
The Ministry of Health said it carries vaccination data at the DHB level only. Photo/ Bevan Conley

“Now we have to go to Westport to get it done, which is very difficult in the middle of giving birth. On Thursday when I booked home I will have to run like a headless chicken to organize the farm before throwing the kids in the car and going to town.

“When I get back, I still have to do all the farm work, so it’s going to be a big day.”

Folkman said that living in the countryside used to travel for services, but he believed that something as important as the release of a vaccine would have been done more to reach rural areas.

“People in town are talking about it, they’re not fans. We have a medical center here, so why not just get enough vaccines for the whole town and get it done, yeah I don’t understand.”

The West Coast Region Health Board said it had set up five clinics in Karamiya since July and had fully vaccinated 277 people.

“All of these clinics were widely advertised using community networks and like all of our mobile clinics in rural communities were open to all eligible people, we plan to revisit all mobile immunization clinic sites including Al Karamiah on two more occasions before mid-December.”

Meanwhile, the closest available vaccination clinic to Karamiah is the Westport Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic.

It’s been tough on farmers who don’t live close to town, said Federated Farmers spokesperson Chris Lewis, but vaccination events in rural areas appear to be working well.

In particular, he said the bacon incentive that Taranaki DHB introduced last week was a success.

“It’s a really busy time of the year for farmers and their employees. DHB’s recognition of the needs of rural communities is to be commended. We’ve seen other rural efforts by medical centers and health boards in places like Methven, Oamaru and Northland.”

“The Fed is sending out a challenge to other DHB banks to look for ways to help rural people get a double whammy by pulling bots and reversing what’s going on in Naki. If bacon is thrown into the mix as well, all the better!” Lewis said.

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