By Rowan Quinn for RNZ
Auckland is not vaccinated enough to relax restrictions but the fully vaccinated should be rewarded with small freedoms, say some experts.
About 89 per cent of eligible people in the city have now had at least one jab after the Super Saturday vaxathon that broke nationwide records.
That was close to the 90 per cent Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has talked about as being needed when considering alert level reductions – although only 71 per cent had had two shots.
Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson said it was particularly good to see about 40,000 people across the country get their first jab, and the protection that came with it, on Saturday.
But with half a million eligible New Zealanders still not vaccinated, it was time to take a fresh approach to reach that minority, he said.
“I think Jacinda and Ashley need to take the back seat. And we need to put Māori and Pacific leaders, leaders of the gangs, GPs, in the front seat,” he said.
It was about connecting in best way with the people who needed it, he said.
Jackson said Auckland’s vaccination rate was great progress but not enough to ease restrictions in this outbreak.
Without them Delta would spread like wildfire through the unvaccinated, he said.
“Once Covid starts spreading, it does it rapidly so they’re going to hit the hospitals rapidly,” he said.
Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said vaccination rates were not the only factors in an alert level decision and there were many others that pointed to keeping restrictions.
They included the growing cases (47 in Auckland and four in Waikato yesterday), the 127 unlinked cases in the past fortnight, and more contacts.
“All of those are a sign that you can’t take the pressure off the outbreak in those situations because we know it is just going to accelerate,” he said.
GP Matire Harwood, whose Papakura marae clinic vaccinated hundreds on Saturday, said Auckland Māori, at 71 percent with at least one vaccination, were still too far behind for the city to loosen restrictions.
“We know that the Covid or any sort of respiratory infection like that is going to have the biggest impact on them,” she said.
But Māori rates were picking up – about 3.5 percent of all Māori in Auckland had a jab on Saturday, a higher rate than the city’s overall population.
Jackson said he would like to reward the immunised – and incentivise the rest – in a cautious way, perhaps allowing fully vaccinated people to go for a sit down meal in a fully vaccinated restaurant.
South Seas healthcare chief executive Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo, whose team reached 1700 people on Saturday agreed, saying it was time to celebrate them.
“If you think about what they’ve done, they’re only protecting the whole country, they allowing the country to get back into some sort of normality,” he said.
He and Harwood wanted to see more big events like Super Saturday, that emphasised the power of the collective.
But they should sit alongside more tailored approaches, like reaching out to people door-to door, or phoning individual patients, which both their clinics did.
And they said those who had been vaccinated, especially young people, could be used to help reach others, perhaps explaining directly how they overcame any of their own hesitations.
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