Canterbury has achieved a vaccination milestone, but experts say the region should not become complacent about the risk posed by Covid-19.
As of Friday – the first day of the country entering the less restrictive traffic light system – 96 per cent of eligible Cantabrians (those aged over 12) had received a single dose of the vaccine and 90 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Taking into account the total Canterbury health board population – including residents aged under 12, and those who were unvaccinated – 75 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
Covid-19 modeller Michael Plank, a University of Canterbury professor, said the higher levels of vaccination would “definitely blunt the impact of the virus” but would not prevent outbreaks.
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“It makes it harder for the virus to spread and reduces the threat of severe illness … that still leaves a quarter of the population who are not immune to the virus.”
Nationally, 87 per cent of the eligible population have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while 93 per cent have had a single dose.
Waitematā and Canterbury were announced as the third and fourth health boards to reach the milestone, at Friday’s Covid-19 media briefing by Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay.
Auckland and Capital and Coast health boards had already achieved the target.
Dr Helen Skinner, Canterbury’s senior responsible officer for the Covid-19 response, said the achievement was “amazing”.
She hoped reaching the milestone would mean “we won’t see many Cantabrians falling seriously ill even if they catch Covid-19”.
Plank said it should be a priority to “look for the gaps” and work out how to reach communities with lower vaccination rates.
“What we know about the virus is that it’s good at finding those gaps, so we need to fill those gaps before the virus can find them.”
High vaccination rates alone would not prevent high case numbers of Covid, and it was important for everyone to continue with other measures such as wearing face masks, social distancing and using the QR tracer app.
Friday’s data showed 75 per cent of Māori in the region were double vaccinated, as were 83 per cent of the Pacific community.
Skinner said the health board was “still working hard to kōrero on vaccination with our Māori community and to reassure pregnant people that getting their vaccinations is safe”.
University of Otago Māori/Indigenous Health Institute dean Professor Suzanne Pitama said the group’s mobile vaccination team was feeling excited about progress with Māori vaccination rates over the last few weeks.
“It’s been a tricky time … our Māori community is continuing to lead the way.”
One young mother who was opposed to getting the vaccine had now become an advocate for it after getting vaccinated at a Rehua Marae clinic.
“She’s now talked to all her friends who also were not going to be vaccinated, and now they are all going to be vaccinated next week.”
The group, which was a collaboration with Ngāi Tahu, had been providing Covid-19 vaccination clinics at marae and kura in Christchurch and Canterbury since June.
On Friday, the team visited a Kāinga Ora social housing complex and vaccinated 40 people, including 30 who received a first dose.
Pitama said more resources had been made available for kaupapa Māori vaccination services in recent weeks, which was having positive results.
Misinformation continued to be a significant barrier for many, with new conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and vaccines emerging all the time.
Despite the increase in vaccination rates, the group remained very concerned about the arrival of Covid-19 in the community, Pitama said.
“We definitely want to hit 90 per cent because we want to make sure our community is safe, but we want to do it in a time frame that allows people to make informed consent.”
Skinner said the health board was “committed to continuing to encourage all eligible Cantabrians to get vaccinated, and to encourage people who are already protected to reach out to those who still may feel hesitant”.
She encouraged all residents to start preparing for what to do if they caught Covid-19.
“Readiness is about … things like deciding what whānau can do when someone tests positive, making lists of those who can help, figuring out how to get food and essential items, and what else you might need when isolating.”
Find your nearest vaccination clinic at https://vaccinatecanterburywestcoast.nz/