An isolated island that banned non-residents from visiting at alert level 3 has the worst Covid-19 vaccination rate in the Auckland region.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island was closed to visitors, along with Waiheke Island, in October due to fears about the Delta variant of the virus.
The Ministry of Health groups Great Barrier and its neighbour, Little Barrier, together in its vaccination statistics.
As of Wednesday, the islands had a first dose rate of 78.9 per cent. The Auckland region as a whole is at 93 per cent for first doses.
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The next-lowest suburb is Ōtara West, where 79.3 per cent of eligible people have had their first dose.
About 850 people on Great Barrier are eligible for the vaccine.
Leo de Beurs, principal at Kaitoke Primary School, said three of his six teaching staff were unvaccinated, and his school of 45 was now split between three bubbles.
One of his teachers was “too good to lose”, he said, and had been shifted to online learning.
A number of parents didn’t like the mask mandate for children and were keeping their kids home: “Some people go to the island because they want to opt out of the system and bureaucracy.”
The school was working on a more permanent solution with the Ministry of Education.
“We’re hoping by January 1 there will be some sort of compromise.”
Emergency services on the island had also been impacted by the vaccine mandate, and eight out of 49 volunteer firefighters had resigned.
Leonie Howie, the co-director of Aotea Health, said her team had called everyone on the island about the vaccine’s availability.
She said the roll-out began in May when 500 people were vaccinated in a day. At that stage guidance was the vaccine could only be refrigerated for five days.
A further 100 residents were vaccinated over the following two days, helping Great Barrier become one of the most isolated areas in the country with a large portion of its population vaccinated, accoring to the Northern Regional Health Co-ordination Centre.
“The community is very thankful.”
Howie wouldn’t comment on vaccine rates, or the consequences of a potential outbreak on the island.
NRHCC said it would continue to support the roll-out on the island and it would have the AstraZeneca vaccine available for residents in the near future.
The island doesn’t have a hospital and any helicopters which would transport a potential Covid case would take several hours to be cleaned for use again, local MP Chloe Swarbrick said.
A mini “Super Saturday” event had been held on November 13, encouraging people to get jabbed.
“A few dozen people coming through on an island of 845 is substantial,” she said.
Nick Wilson, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, said due to density and health infrastructure, rural areas had benefits and negatives when it comes to the virus, making it hard to judge the seriousness of a potential outbreak.
“It’s just a reality that rural people are further from hospitals.
“When people do get infected if they’re further from health services they might be at risk of worse outcomes,” he said.
Wilson cautioned against anyone thinking they would be isolated from the virus.
“Assume you’re going to be at risk and get vaccinated,” he said.