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Vaccinating and building the body

At the forefront of the Tairāwhiti vaccination roll-out during the day and breaking a sweat at night, Metcon Mauri gym coaches are fighting misinformation in the region every day. Gisborne Herald reporter Akula Sharma talked to some of them about their experiences.

As front-line staff and gym coaches, it is really important that we stick to Covid-19 guidelines at the gym, says Metcon Mauri gym coach and Hauora Tairāwhiti pandemic vaccination communication adviser Dianne Akurangi.

“We have had to reduce our class sizes by five people in order to meet the requirement.

“To keep our coaches safe, whenever we are coaching we use a face mask and make sure people are scanning in.

“We make sure everyone has been double-vaccinated. With the number of coaches involved in the vaccination roll-out, it is important to ensure everyone's safety.”

The coaches involved with the vaccination roll-out and front-line work are Ms Akurangi, Kimiora Biddle (vaccination educator and Turanga health nurse), Kevin Pewhairangi (Horouta Pharmacy owner-operator), his wife Casey Pewhairangi (pharmacist at Gisborne Hospital) and Mātai Rangi Smith (radio station manager and breakfast co-host at Tūranga FM).

“We have a great team — with the most vaccination team members within one gym across Tairāwhiti,” said Ms Akurangi.

Metcon Mauri coach and registered nurse Kimiora Biddle said for her team, the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination roll-out had been really hectic.

“Initially we were getting (high) numbers because those who were coming in were keen to get the vaccine. Now, the numbers we are getting are in dribs and drabs.

“We are definitely down to people who are hesitant . . . they need more education.”

Mrs Biddle said it felt like the team was doing a lot — clinics every day and ramping up the number of vaccinations they are administering.

Despite the maximised effort, Mrs Biddle said the team had received a lot of kickback from people who were unhappy with the vaccine mandate.

“For some of them it is not even the vaccine . . . it's just that they are not happy with the Government telling them what to do. And they seem to direct that at us.

“We become the Government in their eyes.

“They get mad at us, saying ‘you guys are doing this to us', and we have to remind them that the Government has done what it has done to protect our communities,” said Mrs Biddle.

“The Government has got us this far. We haven't had as many deaths as other countries have had because of the restrictions and lockdowns.

“Now we have this vaccine, it's well tested, it's safe and the Government has had enough time to review it and the data.

“We have something here which can help reduce the mortality rates in Tairāwhiti and Aotearoa. But we are getting a lot of people who are basically not accepting the science.”

Mrs Biddle said she had been blamed for promoting an “agenda” when trying to educate hesitant people about the vaccine.

“They believe that we have been dictated this information by the Government and we are paid to push that information.

“I have to remind them that I got into this profession for one reason and one reason only — to make sure that our communities are well looked after.

“I want to be in the line of prevention rather than having to cure people.

“It's hard, it's frustrating and it gets a little sad . . . because when it gets to the point you can't convince these people, what more can you do?”

Mrs Biddle said she had been working 12-hour days, which was exhausting.

“This morning (Wednesday) I was up at seven. We prepared our bins for the vaccination clinic and the chilly bins for vials. And we got the vaccine to be taken out to the communities.

“We go in not knowing numbers, so we are there early and sometimes we are finishing late. We try to keep it within our working day, but you can't account for the time before and after clinics.

“We have a good team — nurses and kaiāwhina. We share the load as much as we can and we are given some time off.

“It can get stressful with our own families. There are days when we don't see our families when they wake up or when they go to bed at night. It is really hard for me as a mother.

“But we know we are doing this to protect our communities. I guess that is what drives a lot of what we are doing.”

Mrs Biddle said even the thought of Covid-19 in the community worries her, as a nurse looking after vulnerable people.

“We already know our health system is struggling, let alone Gisborne, with our hospital's capacity. I don't think we can cope. It worries me as a nurse. And there's a thought in the back of my mind . . . ‘Am I going to need to get involved more when that happens, just to help out when staffing becomes an issue?'

“I am scared because my baby can't be vaccinated right now. Most of my family are vaccinated, immediate ones who are living with me are also fully vaccinated, to protect our baby and also my parents because they are vulnerable.

“I don't want to see anyone I love die and I don't think anyone wants to see that.”

Mrs Biddle said education was the best tool to fight the misinformation about Covid-19.

“The more you talk to people, the more you find out. It really hits home some of the ‘truths' that they believe, a lot of it does come down to their faith. They believe their immune system is going to do its job and fight the virus.

“Sometimes it's hard to convince people that this vaccine is going to be a booster to help you survive this disease.”

Metcon Mauri gym crossfit coach and Horouta Pharmacy owner-operator Kevin Pewhairangi said there was a lot of fear among people, and everyone had their own struggles.

“I am crazy busy at the moment. It's really hard to find locums because vaccination campaigns around New Zealand have absorbed them all. The demand for pharmacists has quadrupled in the past year.”

Metcon Mauri gym director and Tūranga FM manager Mātai Rangi Smith said at the radio station they had been promoting positive messaging around vaccinations and its importance for the community.

“At Metcon Mauri our priority is to keep the gym safe. I mean, I get the argument about pro-choice and people willing to make their own decisions, but at the end of the day we run a gym with over 100 people and it's the risk factor that we have to consider for our members' safety.

“I think we are all adults and certainly there has been a lot of misinformation. We have to assure everybody that the information which is being presented to them is 150 percent correct. But at the end of the day we can only encourage them to get vaccinated — it is their own choice.

“We have made our choice at the gym that everyone has to be double-vaccinated to come here.”

Right choices: Metcon Mauri Gym coach and Turanga Health registered nurse Kimiora Biddle says she wants to be in the line of prevention rather than having to cure people. Picture by Paul Rickard
Total care: Metcon Mauri Gym coaches Kimiora Biddle (Turanga Health nurse and vaccination educator), Kevin Pewhairangi (Horouta Pharmacy owner) and Dianne Akurangi (Hauora Tairāwhiti pandemic vaccination communication adviser). Picture by Paul Rickard

  1. Aimee says:

    Legend Kimi Biddle!