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Mel's Story

Mel's Story

I am Mel Rice, Tumuaki of Access Community Health.  Part of my role is to address equity within the organisation.  I hate anything inequitable.  I also hold the disability portfolio, Māori whānau, promoting culture in organisation.  In my working life I’ve done a little bit of everything, support worker, whānau carer, coordinator, payroll, all the way to this latest role.  

This makes me a bit sad, there’s lots in the media about Māori not being vaccinated.  However, the majority of Māori are quite young and the same for Pasifika.  Their median age is 23, the Māori medium age is 25.  These populations are really young and have only been eligible for a short time.

In terms of equity, these peoples have a story about how they have been treated.  The biggest message is trust, trust the system, trust the government, trust the health system.  Māori and Paskifika have not always had great experiences with any of these.  I understand their hesitation.

Access to vaccination in rural areas is difficult, and the Government hasn’t mobilised quickly enough. Dr Rawiri Jansen has been commenting on this situation and he believes it will take at least three to four week to catch up to mainstream in terms of vaccination for these groups.  In terms of equity, it’s not just the young people, but whānau suffer from health complications a lot younger.  For European males, the risk from Covid 19 complications is considered high from 65 years.  For Māori males, it’s just 44 years.  That’s a huge gap.

When I was considering the vaccination, I admit I was hesitant. Social media is an evil thing, it’s great for connectivity but it’s really bad with the stuff that comes out of it.  If you didn’t know, Facebook has algorithms.  That means the more you read of bad stuff, the more you see, so suddenly all you see is the bad stuff.  I didn’t have time to do my own research so my social media feeds were full of negative vaccination stuff.  I was targeted, and some of that stuff is freaky, linked to all kinds of right wing conspiracy groups.

So I was finding it really difficult to find anything to convince me to get vaccinated. All the information I saw was negative, and I couldn’t find the answers to my questions. The PM’s briefs were long, and I couldn’t hear the answers I needed there either.

I did go looking.  I found the Ministry of Health site hard to negotiate.  Then I found my own sources including Dr Rawiri Jansen and Kiri Allan from the Māori party. I follow both of them on Facebook.

Another really user friendly site is Karawhiua  (https://karawhiua.nz/).  Fabulous questions, good solid answers and it feels real. 

Working for Access, I also turned to some people in my organisation with medical backgrounds.  They both demonstrated manaakitanga (look after each other) so I didn’t feel dumb.  Rather I felt cared for, and they gave me good solid answers.

I’m naturally stubborn and I don’t like being told what to do. My whānau page blew up, started with people being very vocal but now it’s gone quiet, as whānau don’t want to fall out with each other.  I’ve noticed that some whānau need breathing space.  Lots of whānau take Māori medicine, they’ve always relied on it and don’t trust non Māori medication.  Funnily enough, the whānau that are Rongoa experts, are pro vaccine as they know the limits of what their medication can do.  And it can’t fight Covid 19!

If you are vaccine hesitant try and understand why.  If you are seeing a lot of negative media, go and find some positive information from a reliable source.  “What are my questions?”  Where can I find good, solid answers?”  Ignore all the tin hat stuff – that will drag you down.

For anyone who is Māori, – I would suggest that we look at our whakapapa. We don’t live by ourselves, we don’t heal by ourselves, we live in close connections with others.  When you are making a decision, that decision impacts right through our whānau, and our community.  That’s what made it for me, it’s not about me, it’s about my whānau that I’m trying to protect.

For our communities that are vaccinating, be mindful of prior experiences and expectations. I had two texts to get vaccinated in one of our poorest areas. I thought it would be run by Kaupapa Māori (it wasn’t).  It would have been good to have Māori wardens there to reassure them and to answer questions.  Manaakitanga  is in my opinion, our  most important value. People are scared, they need to be reassured and they need to feel safe.