Polio survivors urge whānau to 'get the vax, protect your moko, protect your whānau'

By James Perry

A campaign to encourage vaccination is being launched that highlights the dangers of a global pandemic, especially if ignored.

As babies, Kawhia's John Forbes and sister Maea Marshall contracted polio because they were not vaccinated.

Now they have become the face of the campaign to encourage their whānau, particularly those who remain hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine before it is too late.

Maea Marshall and John Forbes hope their story will help Kawhia Moana whānau get the covid-19 vaccination. Photo/Supplied

The childhood story of Kawhia siblings Forbes and Marshall is compelling and moving. They have lived with health issues and disabilities since childhood as a result of polio.

Forbes and Marshall don't want anyone to experience the challenges they have endured since contracting polio, Maea at 18 months and John at 4 years.  

Te Koraha Marae co-chair Taituwha King told Te Ao Māori News the campaign is part of a collaborative effort of eight Kawhia Moana marae to raise vaccination rates in the rohe. 

Concerned for Māori communities

"They've made a decision to talk about their upbringing," he says.

"Maea and John don't want anyone to experience the challenges they have endured since contracting polio, Maea at 18 months and John at four years old.  Their message to their very own relations in Kāwhia, is "get the vax, protect your moko, protect your whānau." 

King says the siblings are concerned for the largely Māori communities that surround the Kawhia harbour, including Kawhia itself, across the harbour at Taharoa, and further down the coast at Marokopa, particularly those who haven't received their first vaccine shots. 

"That's probably the main reason why they've decided to share their story, not just with the people here, but across the whole country."

While many Māori have been re-telling the horrors of the 1918 influenza pandemic and its effect on Māori communities, it is hoped that sharing the lived experience through another pandemic will help make headway in a world of confusion, particularly given misinformation and misrepresentation.

Keyboard warriors

King says despite the efforts of scientists and health experts, some Māori are still hesitant and resistant to receiving vaccinations to protect themselves and their whānau.

"We've been hearing the opinions of everybody recently. My concern is the ease with which some of our own people get swayed by the ignorant, the ill-informed and the keyboard warriors on social media, who often undertake pointless research into misinformation.

"But that's okay, at the end of the day that is their decision, that is their choice. What we're trying to achieve with this campaign is to convince those still sitting on the fence," King says.

With a gentle nudge from familiar faces in the community and their own lived stories of surviving an epidemic, a Māori community can take charge of its own future.