Covid 19: Conspiracy theorists contribute to disappointing vaccination rates



The small West Coast town of Karamea is a place that attracts artists and people who want to get away from the world. It also has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates of any area in the South Island – but the local district health board’s mobile clinic has only visited three times since the vaccine roll-out began. The West Coast has the lowest vaccination rate of any region in the South Island, with 80.3 per cent of the eligible population (those aged 12 and over) having had at least one dose. Another 2700 people need to get their first dose to push the rate up to 90 per cent. The areas with the lowest rates of first doses are Lake Brunner at 53.5 per cent (which includes the Gloriavale Christian Community), Karamea at 63.1 per cent, and Inangahua, also on 63.1 per cent. READ MORE:* Covid-19: Misinformation, booking difficulties blamed for lower vaccination rates in rural areas* West Coast health workers scouring the region with Covid-19 vaccine offer* Providers say Māori-only vaccination clinics are vital Karamea-based Buller District councillor Rosalie Sampson said she was “extremely disappointed” by the area’s low vaccine rate. “A large number of people believe they are entitled to their views. It’s very selfish. They don’t see the collective responsibility we have as a community to get vaccinated.” She understood the reasons included a fear of the vaccine, anti-Government sentiment, and a stubborn “we are not being told what to do” mentality. She feared what would happen when the virus inevitably reached the community, which was 200 kilometres from the region’s main hospital in Greymouth. “We have an ageing population. We are sitting ducks,” she said. The West Coast District Health Board (DHB) is some way behind other South Island DHBs on vaccination. South Canterbury is at 85.4 per cent, Nelson Marlborough is at 86.2 per cent and Southern is at 89 per cent.ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFFAn aerial view of Karamea, in the northern West Coast. Canterbury hit 90 per cent for first doses on Friday – only the fourth DHB nationwide to do so. The region had a large spike in vaccinations on Thursday, the same day two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Christchurch. Despite the cases, similar vaccine jumps were not seen at surrounding DHBs. On the West Coast, just 130 people got their first jab on Thursday, less than the 161 who did the day before. A West Coast DHB spokeswoman said there was an increase in walk-ins at both Westport and Greymouth vaccination clinics after news of the new cases in Christchurch though. From Tuesday, the DHB would increase the walk-in clinics in Hokitika, Greymouth and Westport from five to seven days a week. Mobile clinics would be held in Karamea and Inangahua in November, targetting workplaces, rural sector events and schools. Karamea artist Paul Drake said he was a “conscientious objector” to the vaccine. A conscientious objector was traditionally someone who refused to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion. An anti-mask protest held in the village attracted about 10 people.StuffRoxie Mohebbi leads a discussion about the Covid-19 vaccine with immunologist Dr Maia Brewerton and GP Dr Api Talemaitoga as part of Stuff’s Whole Truth project. A Karamea resident, who declined to be named, said another anti-vaccination mandate protest was planned for Saturday. “I won’t be going. There is actually a bit of a stronghold of conspiracy theorists here – an almost dangerous amount. They are mostly isolated from each other, but I’m not surprised there is high vaccine hesitancy here. “It’s a town where people came here to get away from the world,” he said. Karamea cafe owner Vinnie Dunford said vaccination was a touchy subject in the town. He said he was unvaccinated because he was busy when the mobile clinic came to town. However, he believed he would lose half his customers and half his staff if vaccinations became mandatory at the cafe, and he wondered how his business could survive as a result.Joanne Naish/StuffSophie Carey, West Coast outreach clinical team leader, says patience is needed. West Coast DHB outreach programme clinical team leader Sophie Carey believed the West Coast could catch up, but said “someone has to come last”. She called for patience as the DHB tackled misinformation. “Government messages aren’t always the messages that people want to receive… You do have to give people good messages, make them feel safe and make them feel treated fairly.” West Coast DHB chairman Rick Barker said the region’s rates were “lower than desirable”. “I’m talking to DHB staff and we are pressing on with more mobile clinics … so the question of availability is going to improve significantly.” – Additional reporting by Steven Walton



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