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DHB defends the incentives to vax

Pop-up testing and vaccination at Masterton Medical. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa DHB officials this week defended the use of vaccine incentives like prezzie cards, claiming the significant uptake in vaccinations across the region was partly due to the controversial scheme.

The DHB started offering the incentives, including $100 prezzy cards, to people on November 6. Vaccination numbers have risen sharply across the region since their introduction. The rise also comes after three positive covid cases identified in Masterton in mid-November.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed 93 per cent of those eligible in Wairarapa had had their first jab, with 84 per cent fully vaccinated.

The spokesperson also confirmed a further positive case in the Midcentral DHB region, bringing their total to six. Public health staff are interviewing the person who is understood to live in Waikato and work in Manawatū.

Earlier this week, a case was identified in Hawke’s Bay, that region’s first.

No other cases have emerged in Wairarapa since the initial three, so far.

The covid vaccination programme has been a significant focus for the DHB in recent months, and the region was on target to be 90 per cent fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

The vaccination incentive scheme has attracted criticism on social media, but Wairarapa DHB chief executive Dale Oliff this week praised the initiative at a meeting of the DHB board at Wairarapa Hospital and said it had made a real difference to the numbers.

“We were mindful of that negative press coming particularly through social media,” Oliff said.

“Ethically, at the end of the day, it’s the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Oliff said the DHB had reached a point where more had to be done to ensure enough people in the community were vaccinated.

“We had a think tank with all the key players looking at what we could be doing around improving reaching our target.

One of the things we looked at was the $100 prezzy card. That’s probably the one thing that’s made a real difference in terms of people getting their first shots.”

She said more needed to be done now to ensure people who had had one jab got their second doses.

Other board members shared examples of criticisms they had heard.

“I can understand why we did it, but I have had quite a bit of feedback from the community, not impressed by it at all. I can see that it’s worked, which is great,” said one, as others murmured agreement.

Oliff agreed and said she had heard some of the complaints.

“At the end of the day, it is about vaccinations into arms,” she said.

Another member had not heard negative comments but praised the scheme.

“I have heard that young men in their early twenties who had no intention of getting it [the vaccine] – that [the incentive] got them across the line,” she said.

Oliff said analysis showed the scheme had hit the spot.

“It was the prezzy card people stumped up for,” she said.

The board heard the age group with the lowest vaccination rates was the 18- to 30-year-olds, targeted by the incentive rollout.

The prezzy card was offered alongside other health benefits.

Last month, anticipating questions, the DHB issued a public explanation about the scheme.

“The decision to introduce incentives, where people are rewarded for getting their first dose, was carefully considered. Where an incentive is introduced partway through a campaign to encourage uptake, it can be seen to award the slower participants and so by default ‘disadvantage’ those that moved first to vaccinate. Introducing incentives is a tough call to make, but when it comes to our vaccination programme, it was the necessary next step,” a spokesperson said.

“When covid comes, it will come at a cost. People will suffer. Right now, we can mitigate that by vaccinating. Many of us were vaccinated early and were pleased to do so. A number of us refuse to be vaccinated, and that is their right. But some of us just haven’t got around to it yet, and that is the audience we are incentivising.

“Making vaccination more appealing with a $100 gift card for first doses might be enough to encourage the ‘not got around to it yet’ people to take action now,” they said.

“We make no apology for doing everything we can to protect our population and providing an incentive is a tool we have that we just have to use right now.”

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