Shots from the sky – health provider considers vaccine drops, launches mobile clinic

By Will Trafford

An Eastern Bay of Plenty hauora provider is launching mobile vaccine clinics and considering dropping vaccines via chopper to tackle Māori vaccination rates trailing the general population.

From today, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua will have a van on the road facilitating group vaccination visits for up to 60 people across Mataatua.

The move comes on the back of the provider’s first vaccination site launching in Kopeopeo on May 10.

Chief Executive Dr Chris Tooley says while about 4000 people have received their COVID-19 vaccinations from that site, vaccinations continue to trail ‘where they want them to be’.

“To help with that we are removing barriers for those that need extra support, through location bookings and transport assistance,” he said.

Med Central practice manager Kahlise Hata says tangata whenua remain the priority given Māori are 50% more likely to die from COVID-19, but the programme is open to all whānau across Mataatua.

“We know from historical infectious diseases, like the flu, Māori are disproportionately affected," she said.

Māori vaccination rates are nearly half that of Pākehā and Asian New Zealanders. In July, Māori healthcare leader and GP Dr Rawiri Jansen labelled the government’s Māori vaccination programme a ‘failure’ saying it represented a crisis.

Australia, Canada and the United States have vaccination programmes that prioritise younger indigenous peoples due to the higher likelihood they would suffer complications from the virus.

Haoura providers say they are having to think innovatively to battle the statistics around virus vaccinations. Te Puna Ora o Mataatu says it is even tabling the idea of helicoptering the COVID-19 vaccine out to isolated communities.

"It's not their fault that they live in the middle of nowhere. Everyone has the right to get the vaccination. If we have to do some stuff like that then so be it." said Te Puna Ora o Mataatua's chief operating officer Lee Colquhoun.

The proposal is currently with the Ministry of Health.

Hata says feedback received on the provider's current vaccination scheme has been ‘largely positive,’ with many saying they received vaccinations to protect the health of their whānau, while others said it was about underlying medical conditions and future travel plans.

“We want to hear from you if you’re part of a marae, community organisation, social or community group and would like us to bring mobile vaccinations to you,” she said.

Those in Mataatua can schedule an appointment by calling 0800 628 228 (option 9, then option 1), or by emailing mobile.health@tpoom.co.nz. Alternatively, walk-ins are welcomed at 92 King Street, Kopeopeo.