The Prime Minister addresses Makoura College students, staff, and whanau. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern provided a personal boost to Makoura College’s pop-up vaccination clinic and whanau day with an in-person visit on Thursday.
Despite the grey day, there was a carnival atmosphere at the school as people lined up to bump elbows and take selfies with Ardern.
Makoura College is in the suburb of McJorrow Park, one of New Zealand’s lowest vaccination uptake areas, with 36 per cent of people unvaccinated. The suburb ranked in the bottom three per cent of New Zealand at only 45 per cent fully vaccinated. Only 64 per cent of the suburb had received their first dose.
Makoura College ran parent-teacher interviews throughout the day, meaning the school was emptier than usual.
However, many students turned out to welcome Ardern on to the school with a powhiri, while some also received their vaccinations.
Ardern told the assembled students that the number of vaccinations across New Zealand was increasing every day.
“Every day I see that number, I let out a little sigh because that is one extra person or a hundred extra people or a thousand extra people who are going to be safer today than they were yesterday. And that helps me sleep at night,” she said.
Ardern thanked everyone for helping with the vaccination programme.
“Thank you. You are helping to save other people’s lives. I can’t imagine anything we are doing right now that could be more important than that,” she said.
“Ultimately, it is about looking after one another,” she said.
Year 13 Teen Parent Unit student Tori Nixon got her vaccination at the pop-up clinic with Ardern talking to her the whole time.
“It was fine,” Nixon said. “I think I was more nervous about the needle than Jacinda.”
Nixon said the main reason she got the vaccination was to keep her 14-month-old baby safe.
Ardern also held a closed hui with students from a range of year levels to answer their questions and address any concerns about the vaccine.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty accompanied Ardern to the school. He said her visit helped send a powerful message to the students, their whanau, and the wider region.
“We all continue to have a role to play in getting our vaccination rates up,” he said.
McAnulty said Wairarapa had had one of the first covid-19 cases last year and was the first region to be clear of the disease.
“We’ve been clear of covid the longest of any region. If we want to continue leading the way, building on the momentum of Super Saturday and increasing our vaccination rates is key.
“We can all play a role. We all know someone dear to us that hasn’t had a vaccine for various reasons. It might be they believe the misinformation on the internet, or they might have a genuine concern about their health. I would say to those people to come down to a clinic at places like Makoura or across the region. Come down and talk to them,” he said.
Director of Maori health at Wairarapa DHB Jason Kerehi also attended the event. He said considering the DHB’s focus on youth and Maori vaccination, it was important to connect with Makoura College.
“Makoura College is situated in a low-uptake suburb that we are particularly interested in supporting to vaccinate,” he said.
The pop-up clinic coincided with the college’s whanau day, which brought students, teachers, and families together for an opportunity to focus on hauora and vaccination. While everyone was invited to participate, year 12 and 13 student leaders were a particular focus. It was hoped their increased awareness of issues would influence others.
“We know that people have questions and often want to talk about vaccination and what it means for them. Opening up opportunities to have those conversations is a big part of what we do, and our youth are naturally curious,” Kerehi said.
DHB chief executive Dale Oliff said they were pleased to host the Prime Minister and welcomed her focus on getting vaccinated.
“Our youth and our Maori population are our priority right now, and the Prime Minister’s support of our Wairarapa whanau is a great boost. It illustrates the importance of vaccination for all eligible people, everywhere,” she said.
“Having the Prime Minister visiting us here in Wairarapa helps us spread the message that even though we are currently covid-free, vaccination is the most important thing we can do to keep Wairarapa safe.”
Oliff stressed the DHB’s commitment to ensuring every eligible person had access and opportunity to receive their two-dose vaccination.
More than 100 healthcare workers and others were engaged in the vaccine rollout, including DHB and Maori providers, with community leaders lending their full support.
“I am proud of the commitment our team is making and of the results so far, and look forward to continuing the success of the programme as we travel throughout the region to vaccinate our communities,” Oliff said.
Makoura College principal Marion Harvey said the Wairarapa DHB had approached the school asking to use their facilities for the clinic.
“I said, absolutely. I’m very happy to support the community initiative.”
Harvey said the school was a familiar place where young people could feel comfortable getting the vaccine.
“There may be people that feel more comfortable coming onsite to a school than going into a building in town.”
Harvey said she had stressed the importance of making an educated decision about getting vaccinated to her students.
Additional reporting by Tom Taylor