Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Who will be ‘Top Town’ of the Covid vaccine rollout?

Which New Zealand town will be the first to hit the coveted 90 per cent vaccination target?

That is the question the NZ Herald wants to answer in the newest addition to The 90% Project, encouraging Kiwis to get the jabs to reach 90 per cent full-vaccination across the country by Christmas.

In data supplied by the Ministry of Health, the Herald will publish the proportion of people partially and fully vaccinated across all 66 New Zealand territorial authorities, highlighting the top 20 towns.

We’re encouraging Kiwis to get both jabs so the order will be decided by full vaccination rate.

It’s hoped the project will ignite the friendly rivalry New Zealanders share to see drive our vaccinations and return some of the societal freedoms we have missed since 2019.

Who is Top Town right now?

As of Wednesday, the Kaikōura District was New Zealand’s Top Town of vaccination, with 55 per cent of its population having had both jabs.

Known for its whale watching on Te Waipounamu’s east coast, Kaikōura narrowly beats Marlborough and Central Otago for the top spot, which are tied for second on 54 per cent.

Interestingly, three more South Island areas round out the top six with Dunedin City, Nelson City and Tasman District all on 52 per cent.

Carterton District is the first representative from Te Ika-a-Māui on 50 per cent, followed by lower North Island neighbours Kāpiti Coast District and Masterton District – both on 49 per cent.

Auckland, the country’s most populous city by far, sneaks into the top 20 in 19th position with 47 per cent but remains above the national average of 44 per cent.

Wellington City has some work to do on 40 per cent, however the capital has the highest proportion of partially vaccinated people with 47 per cent.

Overall, Queenstown-Lakes District has the lowest proportion of unvaccinated people at 11 per cent.

Herald data specialist Chris McDowall said areas like Queenstown and Wellington would likely move up the ladder quickly thanks to their high first-dose vaccination levels.

For those areas with high full vaccination levels, McDowall said they all shared the common factor of an older population.

“People aged 65 and over have been eligible to get the vaccine since May, so there’s been a lot more time for older people to get two doses of the vaccine,” he said.

“New Zealand’s median age is around 37. With the exception of Dunedin City, the median age of all these districts is between 43.4 and 48.5.

“In contrast, Auckland and Wellington have much younger populations, each having a median age of about 34.”

While the data provided a helpful insight into vaccination progress, McDowall said more work was needed to evaluate whether an area’s vaccination level was consistent across populations.

“A district might have a relatively low rate of fully vaccinated people, but there might be settlements within that district that are doing well.

“Similarly, there are likely to be pockets of seemingly well-performing districts where there is still a lot of work to do.”

Big city heavyweights duke it out

When asked whether there was any rivalry between New Zealand’s two major cities, Auckland mayor Phil Goff inquired as to why there was any suggestion the country had more than one big city.

In what was a devastating, albeit tongue-in-cheek, slight directed towards the capital, Goff was firm in his belief the City of Sails would time its run to the 90 per cent finish line perfectly.

“I think Auckland’s going to be like the runner in the 5000-metre race who hangs around in the middle of the pack, then when they come into the final straights – that’s when they pass everybody,” he said.

With plenty of young Aucklanders yet to get the jab, Goff said the unvaccinated should heed the advice of Invercargill international ICU nurse Jenny McGee who told the Herald of the dire consequences of not getting the jab.

“That’s a genuine story from somebody who has seen the worst effects of Covid close up.”

Upon hearing Goff’s shot across the bow, Wellington mayor Andy Foster responded as a true statesman, saying it was most important for the entire country to lift its vaccination rates.

“I want everyone to be at the top of the tree … I want Auckland to be 100 per cent vaccinated, I want Wellington to be 100 per cent vaccinated.”

With the rate of vaccination expected to slow, Foster said it was about time incentives and consequences for the vaccinated and unvaccinated respectively were explored.

“The key here is we need to get right on top of this, we’re going to have to live with Covid, I think that is very clear now.”

Old rivalries ignited in NZ's 'Sunshine Capital'

It’s an age-old battle in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island) to see who can get the most hours of sun and become the ‘Sunshine Capital’ of Aotearoa.

Now, Marlborough District and Nelson City are locked in a tight contest over vaccination, with just 2 per cent separating them near the top of the table.

Marlborough mayor John Leggett said the long-standing competitive spirit will invigorate those without their necessary jabs to brave the needle.

“Let’s call it friendly rivalry,” he said with a laugh.

“In a situation like this, having a bit of rivalry, it definitely works, it gets people’s interest up and we’re always up for getting one up over Tasman and Nelson.”

He said it was pleasing to see the district with high vaccination rates, but he acknowledged there was still work to do to reach the area’s more isolated communities.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese wasn’t easily drawn on talks of competition and rivalry.

However, she was confident neighbouring areas would unite in dispelling harmful vaccine rumours.

“We do, like every community, have people who are promoting some anti-vaccine messages and we need to be really mindful of the impact they have,” she said.

“We’ve got to keep our messaging up and making sure we can [improve] vaccination.”

Rugby loyalty to unite deep south

With Central Otago and Dunedin jostling for bronze, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would awaken the postcode pride of the southerners.

But according to Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan, deep south residents would put their differences aside to focus their attention on an even greater foe.

“I think we’ll link arms side-by-side with Dunedin and recognise that the other two outfits ahead of us [Kaikoura and Marlborough] are from the Crusaders territory and we’re going to take them out!”

The South Island hadn’t seen a positive Covid case in more than 300 days, and the irony of 6 Te Waipounamu districts leading the country in full vaccination was not lost on Cadogan.

In Central Otago, he believed it was the community’s connected nature which would see their vaccination levels exceed 90 per cent.

“There’s no reason why we can’t easily get to the mid 90s in Central Otago and give the protection to the population, and help the nation stop needing these lockdowns that our whānau in Auckland are still having to suffer through.”

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