Andrew Dickson is a health sociologist and senior lecturer at Massey University.
OPINION: New Zealand’s pediatric Covid-19 vaccine coverage is shocking.
Just over half of the eligible kids between five and 11 have had one dose, and only around 20% have had two.
This rate is dismal for a country that managed to get 95% of those over 12 vaccinated. Many people have wondered why.
The most convincing argument is that parents (who themselves are vaccinated) do not think the vaccine is very effective for kids, so why bother?
Unfortunately, we’re now thinking about vaccines all wrong. I blame the government entirely for this, and specifically its communication around what vaccines do for all of us. It is a small thing, but in my view it has had an enormous impact.
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Tamariki aged 5 to 11 are able to get a kids’ version of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, to help protect them against the virus.
Back in July 2021, when people still listed intently, prime minister Jacinda Ardern received her second covid-19 vaccination.
During the press stand-up following this she used this phrase to indicate what was coming: “In order to safely shift our wall of defense from our border to individual armor the vaccine provides, it relies on high rates of vaccination.”
Although it is a tidy trick, the conceptual slippage from “wall of defense” in reference to the border to “individual armor” is a tragic step for thinking about vaccination.
Vaccines need to have very high population coverage to be really effective – they are, literally, a wall of defense for the population.
That is how we keep measles at bay, and why the Ministry of Health is so rightly worried about kids not getting their measles shots before the border opens.
Omicron (and its rapidly evolving cousins) has sharpened this issue substantially. It is becoming clear that infection immunity is not long lasting, and the virus is evolving so rapidly that this is entirely possible to get worse.
Many knowledgeable people are now predicting that humans will have to get used to several Covid infections per year.
Our only hope of getting out of this is vaccination, and not just with current vaccines but second and third generation ones currently in development. The problem is that we all need to be on board with this, or at least 95% of us, from newborns to the very elderly, globally.
DAVID UNWIN / STUFF
Mana Tamariki have set up a vaccination center in their kura which communicates in te reo helping tamariki and whanau to be at ease as they receive the jab.
By Ardern and the Ministry of Health changing the message from “wall of defense” to “individual armor” we’ve lost the most crucial thing about vaccines – it actually is not about you. It has never been about you.
Your vaccination, and that of your child is for everybody. And everybody else’s vaccination is for you. It is exactly a “wall of defense.”
This means that you might still become unwell with the BA.2 variant even if you are vaccinated, but that does not matter. And the vaccine probably won’t stop your child getting Covid. But that does not matter.
If every kid and every adult was vaccinated then there would just be fewer opportunities for any of us to catch it, and that is how we beat it in the long term.
When second and third generation vaccines arrive it will require everybody working together – here, the team of 5 million is actually a team. It is the only time where the over-used and horse-shit phrase, ” there is no I in team ”, is actually true.
Vaccination is not the only example of a tragic slippage from a ” wall of defense ” to ” individual armor ” rhetoric.
Masks in schools have now become voluntary under the “orange” setting. Principals and boards of trustees do not feel they have the authority to mandate masks in their schools, and masks will disappear if they have not already.
Soon, we’ll have half the school population unvaccinated and unmasked.
Think of the impact of this on the immune compromised and vulnerable community.
My disabled kid can’t go to school right now, neither can his sister. Both would love to, but there is no wall of defense for them to shelter behind anymore.
So I have a request, one made on behalf of the disabled and immune compromised community, a request specifically for parents:
You need to go and get your kids vaccinated as soon as possible. If they’ve had Covid recently, get them vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible. If they haven’t, then get it done this week. Don’t do it for your kid, do it for all the other kids, and their parents and grandparents. Do it so my kid can go back to school. Do your small part in rebuilding the wall of defense. When the new vaccines become available, get those too.
My advice to the government is also straightforward. Get rid of the “individual armor” rhetoric. Go back to the “wall of defense”.