‘Sense of urgency’ in Pacific community

September 1, 2021

Frontline nurses vaccinating Auckland’s Pacific communities against COVID-19 have seen thousands of people since the Delta outbreak began last month, says a nursing team leader.

“There is a sense of urgency now,” says Liz Tiumalu (front centre with mask), team lead at the Otara Pacific locality vaccination centre, a collaboration of south Auckland providers.

The centre has celebrated 50,000 vaccinations in the past five months – after a huge leap recently, she said.

“The ones who were a bit hesitant, or weren’t sure, many decided to come here and get vaccinated, after realising that COVID could get here in Auckland. They were scared, but still decided to come – Pacific and Māori… many different people.”

Vaccination rates for Māori and Pacific peoples had doubled since the outbreak, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said.

With about 13 vaccinators on duty at a time, they were seeing 500 to 600 people a week, and up to 900 over a weekend, said Tiumalu, who as lead routinely worked 12-hour shifts.

Nurses took time with the hesitant or fearful, she said. “The advice we give to all our vaccinators is to make sure they take their time, to talk to and reassure people,” she said. “The nurse role does everything – we are counsellors as well.”

The visits were also an opportunity to ensure people were safe and their wider health needs were being met – as well as connect them with health-care providers. “Two girls came with their mum – they had never had any vaccinations before, ever,” she said. “Even our non-Pacific workers have taken on the Pacific model and applied the same care and reassurance to everyone.”

For nurses with Pacific backgrounds, it could be easier connect with a community, so hard hit by the current outbreak – “just having the language and understanding where they come from”.

The centre was a collaboration of staff from South Seas Healthcare; Southpoint Family Doctors; Baderdrive Doctors; Pasefika Family Health Group and the Fono. “On our own, we couldn’t have achieved this, so it’s great.”

A $26 million funding boost is also supporting Pacific communities’ vaccination.

NZNO Pacific Nurses Section chair ‘Eseta Finau said “ethnic-specific” initiatives were also helping, such as a drive-through vaccination clinic aimed at Auckland’s Tongan community and similar drives for Samoan and Niuean communities.