Pacific panel discusses Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy among Pasifika

A Samoan academic, a youth leader and a South Auckland Anglican minister have discussed attitudes of vaccine hesitancy among Pasifika towards receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.

Faumuina Professor Faafetai Sopoaga says it’s important Pasifika understand the risks and benefits of taking the vaccine.

Faumuina says the main benefit of receiving the vaccine is that it protects people from Covid-19.

“The Pfizer vaccine is 90 to 95 per cent effective. So what that means is that when you have the vaccine, you will be protected from picking up this very serious disease that is affecting us all at this time,” says Faumuina, who's an Associate Dean of the Division of Health Sciences at Otago University.​

The first injections of the Pfizer vaccine were given to frontline workers at the Jet Park managed isolation facility and more border workers are expected to receive the vaccine over the coming weeks.

Faumuina says the risks of the vaccine are minor.

“One would be, kind of like a pain, that you might have at the side where you have the injection, you might develop a fever, but these are all expected.

“In only a very, very small number of people, they might have a more serious reaction and we do ask that you stay behind for 30 minutes so that we can watch and respond to any serious reactions that you might have from the vaccine.”

Faumuina says it's also reassuring because New Zealand has enough evidence to roll out the Pfizer vaccine after seeing other countries deliver the vaccines before them.

“Vaccinations have started overseas in the UK, in the United States, in Israel, three to four months ago. 

“We’ve been able to look at the information that has come through and look at any adverse effects when they’ve tested it to the population 16 years and over. It also looked at people who have underlying health conditions who have received the vaccine and they’ve also tested it with the elderly.”

‘Social media can play a huge influence’ 

Researcher and youth leader Fredwyn Kisona says there needs to be different ways of delivering messaging about the Covid-19 vaccine to Pasifika communities.

Kisona says having a talanoa with people and using respected public figures are just some ways to reach out to Pasifika.

“More communication, even more hard questions. Even for our non-English speakers, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples have done well in catering for the different languages of the Pacific.

“It really is just going hard on social media and using people whom our youth respect to show that as well. What also would be encouraging is seeing our leaders lead by example, whether it’s Aunty Jacinda or Doctor Bloomfield doing the vaccinations themselves.”

Kisona says social media can play a huge influence, especially on young people. 

“I think social media is a big influence with all the ideas and movements against vaccinations and even the conspiracies.

“It’s pretty easy to buy into these ideas, especially when we’re not educated fully on the facts, but especially when there’s a hype around it, it’s sometimes easier to listen to Doctor Facebook or Doctor TikTok.”

A South Auckland church leader is encouraging people to look for reliable sources when looking for information about the vaccine.

Reverend Igatiatama Mokole says he puts his faith in Pacific health experts and government leaders.

“I look at our leader Jacinda Ardern and the Ministry of Health, Director-General of Health, Ministry for Pacific Peoples and then down to the best of our Pasifika doctors and researchers and that’s where I check my facts in terms of, is my understanding of God’s call in here?”