Get stuck in, Waiheke needs you

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    Frustration, disagreements and financial hardship have been Covid’s calling cards for locked-down Waiheke. But now there’s something we can all do to help our community open up – get the island vaccinated.

    Tuesday afternoon, Gulf News took a phone call – Waiheke, finally, was to be included in the Auckland-wide scheme to supply free taxis to take people to and from their first vaccination and cars were now available for both Ostend Medical Centre and Waiheke Medical Centre.

    Considering that the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre had announced this bid to “leave no stone unturned in our bid to get as many Aucklanders vaccinated as possible” on 1 October, it was maybe a little annoying that they’d struck the deal with only Auckland Co-op (Blue Bubble) Taxis in the first place. After all, it would help if the taxis were actually available on the island if they were going to play a useful part in our vaccine rollout.

    Fortunately for Waiheke, we have well-placed individuals (in this case Dr Barnett Bond, who’s a primary care clinical director for Auckland District Health Board) who are able to shout out when Waiheke falls off any “Auckland-wide” plans.

    A few salient emails later, and Waiheke Executive Transport was brought on board. Job done.

    We have reached the point in New Zealand’s response to the pandemic where every day counts in the drive to get as many people as possible vaccinated, so it’s a little frustrating when 10 days can pass ironing out wrinkles such as Waiheke being left out of “city-wide” schemes.

    But it’s the obvious outcome of strategies being announced on the hoof that issues like this will arise – what’s important is that they are resolved when they’re spotted so as to provide as few barriers as possible for those still wavering about being vaccinated.

    By the time you read this, new figures will have shown exactly how many people on Waiheke are yet to get their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine and how many answered the call after the Ministry of Health last week revealed data showing that as of 11.59pm on 5 October, there were 1505 eligible residents still un-jabbed.

    There will be some with medical reasons why they can’t have a vaccination, but otherwise getting this figure down as low as possible is key to Waiheke’s Covid response. Island-wide, about four-fifths of us jumped on the vaccination bandwagon when we could and, within the next couple of weeks, second dose figures are likely to catch up with those first dose figures. But it’s this final fifth of the population who are now the target, and why every conceivable barrier is being lowered to try to get them over the line.

    Super Saturday may come with bright and shiny baubles such as a televised “Vaxathon” and, as we report on page five this week, clothes giveaways, spot prizes and sausage sizzles at the two Waiheke health centres – but there are also practical barriers such as transport that are also being raised through schemes such as the free taxis and the fact that anyone can ask for a nurse to visit them in their home to administer a vaccine too.

    The fact that more anti-vaccination literature was dropped into my letterbox this week shows that there’s still a hard core of people on Waiheke unwilling to play their part in what’s now a community-wide effort to both protect the health of our residents and create the best possible environment in which we can reopen our businesses and jump-start our economy.

    And this week’s Gulf News is full of stories about people and businesses who not only see the positive outcomes from a well-vaccinated island, but need it to happen yesterday.

    The harsh words that erupted between the local board and some Waiheke businesses over the Government’s decision to prevent day-tripping Aucklanders from riding the ferries during this first step of the new level 3 restrictions is a symptom of this frustration.

    It’s easy to be frustrated when strategy plays second fiddle to circumstance and announcements don’t provide the economic certainty that so many people on the island require right now. 

    But reopening communities to a world now blighted by Covid-delta (and with the promise of more variants to come) is not a sure science – as much as we’d like it to be. All New Zealand can do is watch how other countries and regions have performed and learn from their successes and failures.

    In an excellent article in last weekend’s Sunday Star-Times, Professor Dale Fisher – senior consultant at Singapore’s National University Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases – used his own country’s battle against a huge recent spike in cases after they ditched their long-held elimination strategy to warn against the pomp and back-slapping of “Freedom Days” and to take a cautious, health-first approach to the inevitable situation of living with Covid in our community.

    And that’s what New Zealand’s total concentration on vaccination rates is all about. Professor Fisher said New Zealand was staring down it’s “reckoning day”, that we will have to face rising case numbers, and we will have to contend with the psychological hit of looking like we’re “giving up ground”.

    But his countryman, public health Professor Hsu Li Yang, offered a glimmer of hope. “New Zealand is in a good place not just because case numbers and deaths from Covid-19 have been low, but because there are many countries ahead of it that are re-opening (or have re-opened). You can observe and learn from all the mistakes and successes of those ahead of you, including Singapore.”

    New Zealand – and Waiheke – is still in an enviable position globally because of our response to the horrific spectre of Covid-19. The next step in continuing our relative success is in a careful and considered reopening that safeguards both the health of our communities and the economies and industries we rely on.

    And we can all play a part in that. If you know anyone yet to get their first dose of the vaccine, help them understand its role in opening up our schools, our businesses and our social gatherings; point them in the direction of the medical experts who can offer them the reassurance and authority to understand that what they are doing is safe and effective; oh, and if you or anyone you know does want a free taxi to their first vaccination at either Ostend or Oneroa, then either email info@waiheketransport.co.nz or call 372 0089 for the bookings and quote VAXXTAXI102 or VAXXTAXI103 to identify the booking as a free taxi. • James Belfield

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