Limitoo News

Tamariki Māori going unprotected against Covid-19

Most Te Tai Tokerau schools are not holding onsite Covid-19 vaccination clinics due to concerns about anti-vax retaliation.

Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman
Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman. Photo: RNZ / Sam Olley

The Northland DHB is facing vaccine hesitance across many ages and ethnicities.

It is spending $5 million on campaigns against Covid-19 misinformation but DHB management is reporting "minimal effect" so far.

One in 10 people aged 12 and over are yet to have a Covid-19 vaccine dose in the region.

The DHB is particularly concerned about tamariki Māori, who have the lowest Covid-19 inoculation rates in Aotearoa, among five to 11-year-olds.

Three quarters in Te Tai Tokerau are unvaccinated and just 5 percent have had two doses.

Only a handful of primary schools have hosted vaccination clinics.

DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain told the board this week, schools supported the rollout but worried about protesters sabotaging vaccinators.

He said they were also "really concerned, from a safety point of view, for their staff, and the children as well".

"Most schools do not want our vaccinators onsite."

Whangārei Boys' High School
Photo: RNZ / Sam Olley

Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman (Kāi Tahu) has told the DHB to use marae, sports clubs and halls next to kura, instead.

Vaccinators have not come to his workplace, Hora Hora Primary, but he has still had to confront an anti-vax protester on the grounds.

"She started haranguing me and telling me I didn't care about my staff and all the rest of it, and the kids," he said.

"And then she wouldn't leave, even though I asked her to leave nicely. And then I asked her to leave using some Anglo-Saxon language, at which stage my office ladies came in and escorted her out."

Manaia View School has not had a clinic either.

Principal Leanne Otene (Te Rarawa) said it was a tough call among many in the pandemic to date.

"It has been an absolute marathon. When you tackle an issue, you deal with it, you follow policy, you follow procedure and then you move on to the next thing. We have that saying 'and this will pass too'. Well, this hasn't passed."

Otene said some of her pupils had contracted Covid-19 and the virus was "heartbreaking" for whānau.

Nearby Whangārei Boys' High School had vaccinators onsite, for two days, last year.

Principal Karen Gilbert-Smith said students needed written permission from parents.

Those who wanted to get vaccinated, but did not have parental agreement, have come to teachers for advice.

"Coming to school every day and talking to boys and teachers, and being bombarded with social media about the vaccination and Covid and infection rates and so on ... they have lots of information - not all of it accurate."

Gilbert-Smith said at the start of this year, about 50 percent of students were vaccinated.

The Ministry of Health said people aged 12 and above could give vaccination consent, but they should discussion their decision with someone they trust, first.