The 90% project: The changed anti-vaxxer whos now pushing the Hawkes Bay Pasifika community towards vaccine goal

Halaevalu Tongauiha believed the misinformation she was reading on social media.

She saw fake stories about people dying in droves from getting the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine, she saw people claiming the jab was the Delta variant, even opinions from some claiming that the shot was “satanic”.

The 34-year-old mother from Flaxmere readily admits that it led her down a rabbit hole, and she became an ardent anti-vaxxer.

Now she’s putting herself out there as a fully vaccinated Pasifika woman who’s changed her mind.

It’s a bid to get the last of the Pasifika community vaccinated – including, with a bit of luck, her mother and siblings.

“I was quite hesitant to get the jab, I kept putting it off because I believed the information on social media,” she told Hawke’s Bay Today.

“There is so much of misinformation on social media – people dying from getting the vaccine, people not getting it because they think it’s satanic, or because the vaccine is the actual Delta variant.

“I am trying to persuade my family to get vaccinated, but my mum is into her natural remedies and she doesn’t believe in the vaccine.

“But I will be taking my 13-year-old and 12-year-old to get vaccinated.”

Hawke’s Bay’s Pasifika community is one of the poster childs of NZ when it comes to the vaccine rollout.

Currently 86 per cent of the community, which includes both Pacific full-time residents and the large RSE worker population, have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Pacific Health team leader at Hawke’s Bay DHB Talalelei Taufale said the high rates of vaccination were down primarily to planning post 2020 Covid-outbreak and collaborative team effort between health services, community leaders and the DHB.

“What’s worked for us is that we have a smaller population target, and we have tried to promote the message from a local perspective by articulating it in the different languages which make up our population.”

He said there were learnings to be had about the nature of the Delta variant and what’s happened overseas, and in Auckland, specifically within the Pasifika community.

“Vaccinating our vulnerable became the top of our list,” he said.

“Now we are encouraging anyone who is eligible to be vaccinated, and we are always looking in the corners to see who else needs to be vaccinated.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

He said the voices of Pacific leaders encouraging the vaccine was also something which helped with numbers.

“We are now narrowing down our focus and we are doing what needs to be done to get the remainder of our population vaccinated,” he said.

“If we need to ring our whanau individually we are, we are letting whanau call us and book.

“We have also been able to identify the group of anti-vaxxers in our community so we can have a conversation with them.

“We respect their opinion, but our focus is to ensure they have been informed and are armed with the correct information about the vaccine.”

He said some who had been informed, like Tongauiha, subsequently changed their minds, and got the jab.

“We are connected to all pockets and corners of our community, and we respect everyone for the decision they make.”

Tongauiha got her first vaccine dose administered in August and then the second one in September, three weeks after the first.

She said it took a frank conversation with her husband about her need to travel to visit family and the borders opening up bringing with them the potential of more Covid variants coming into NZ.

“I told him that I would need to travel, for sickness or funerals, and I didn’t want to be the one who couldn’t,” she said.

She said getting vaccinated wasn’t just about protecting the individual.

“It’ll keep the community safe too.”


As at September 23:

166,823 people had received at least one dose in Hawke’s Bay.

Of that, 106,661 people had received their first dose.

51 per cent of the Maori population had received their first dose, and 86 per cent of the Pacific population had received one dose.

73 per cent of Napier, Hastings and CHB residents had received at least one dose, and 63 per cent in Wairoa had received at least one dose.

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