My own call came the first Thursday they started the whole jabs process down at Oneroa.
“Is that James?”
“Can you make it down the village in the next 10 minutes?”
“Bugger, no… sorry. I’m off island – doing my other job. You’ll have to go to the next person on the list.”
“That’s fine. There will be someone else. Do you mind if we call you again though, if there’s an availability?”
When Oneroa’s Waiheke Medical Centre became the first GP clinic in Auckland to start allowing us to roll up our sleeves and help roll out the Covid vaccination programme, it made sense for them to create a list of those who live or work close to Oneroa who would be able to make it into the village quickly to get a shot in the case of someone being unavailable for theirs.
At capacity they expect to do 90 jabs a day. And there are plenty of reasons why one of those 90 people may not be able to make it to the surgery (just this week, I heard that one gentleman hadn’t made it in for his vaccination because of a shortage of Red Cross volunteer drivers – but that’s another important story for another day). So, they created a list of people who would be able to get these “spare” shots so the vaccine, which has a short shelf life and difficult storage requirements, wouldn’t be wasted. The Gulf News office is just around the corner and so a lot of us had our names on that list.
It’s all very prosaic, isn’t it? You’ll see the whole scene playing out at similar centres around New Zealand, where, in order to ensure these precious vaccines don’t go to waste, people who don’t necessarily fit the current vaccination criteria of “people who are at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19” – ie the over-65s, or have a relevant underlying health condition, or are pregnant – getting their first dose.
I certainly don’t fit any of those criteria, but am very happy to get a boost up the rankings if there’s a shot available. After all, the rest of my family – some of whom have suffered with Covid during the UK’s outbreaks, and all of whom know people who have died – are now vaccinated.
So it was with some exasperation that I witnessed some of the Twitter-storm that erupted when Oneroa’s save-a-shot scheme resulted in someone with something of a media profile getting a dose of Pfizer and then calling out anti-vaxxers.
What Amanda Palmer actually said on Patreon was the relief she felt at getting a vaccination “cannot be described”.
She then went on to say, “I want to say a quick word about the vaccine, because the number of people I’ve met in person here in New Zealand who are ‘anti-vax’ has been troubling me deeply. I also can’t shake the comments from previous vaccine posts where people accuse me of ‘selling out to the very establishment against which I use to rail’ and calling me a sheeple for promoting and celebrating a feat of science that is going to save millions of lives.”
As well as anti-vaxxers, she also called out some of the vaccine-hesitancy she’d heard on Waiheke – “often from otherwise sage women in their 60s and 70s”.
In many ways, New Zealand’s biggest hurdle for the vaccination rollout is the success we’ve enjoyed keeping a devastating illness at the borders. Certainly, much of the hesitancy experienced by my own family members back in the UK was extinguished by long periods of lockdown isolation, illness and proximity to death.
If, in the absence of a dose of mortality-awareness, someone you think highly of (or care enough about to follow on social media) can help sway you towards the scientific necessity of a successful Covid vaccine rollout, then all power to them, I say. (I’m pretty certain if Bob Dylan told me his secret to creative longevity was drinking banana milkshakes, I’d soon have a pile of bunches clogging up the veggie drawer!)
Anti-vaxxers, as misguided and frustrating a bunch as I personally find them – are no more common on Waiheke than anywhere else in the world – and it’s up to those of us who disseminate honest, factual, scientific truth to battle them every step of the way. But vaccine hesitancy is a different beast – and something that needs a gentler approach that includes telling the real stories of those who decided to get vaccinated.
So, yes, I completely understand Amanda Palmer’s decision to tell the world about her first shot of Pfizer vaccine; no, she didn’t get it “because she’s famous”; no, Waiheke’s not full to the brim with anti-vaxxers; and, yes, count me in the next time there’s a gap in the queue down at Waiheke Medical Centre. • James Belfield