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Published Thursday 28 Oct 2021

A 19-year-old student currently based in Nelson and I have written an open letter to New Zealanders encouraging everyone to do their bit and get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Dear New Zealanders.

Do the mahi, get the treats. It is really that simple.

Right now, we are facing not just a national health crisis, but a global one. Covid-19 is absolutely real and has been for nearly two years. Now, after tireless work over many months by vaccine developers all over the world, we have a route out of the pandemic and we can return to essentially pre-Covid freedoms. The solution to the problem we’re facing is, undoubtedly, vaccination.

In a crisis, like the one we are facing at present, everyone needs to do their part in responding to the situation. There is countless evidence, both nationwide and overseas, that the vaccine is safe and is the best way to combat the virus, especially in the case of the Pfizer vaccine which is the one we are using here in New Zealand. This evidence has been present for many months, so people in New Zealand have had enough time to research the vaccine, its safety and its side effects. Waiting any longer to get vaccinated will only prolong yourself, your whānau, your community and the rest of the country from being in a Covid-safe place to live.

No vaccine is perfect. People can still get Covid-19 if they are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, but the chances of getting it and becoming seriously ill with the virus are reduced by as much as 95% in fully-vaccinated people. Furthermore, the risk of a fully-vaccinated person with Covid-19 passing it on to others is reduced by up to 60% with the Pfizer vaccine, meaning there’s a far lesser likelihood of both household and community transmission if as many people as possible are fully vaccinated. These percentage numbers are among the highest in the world out of the many different Covid-19 vaccines being used globally, so waiting for a different vaccine to arrive will not only put you at risk to the virus here for a longer amount of time, but also the different vaccine you choose will likely be less effective against the virus. Vaccination now, more so than any other public health measure, is the best way to prevent further transmission of Covid-19 throughout New Zealand and throughout the world. Take New South Wales and Victoria in Australia for example, both of which are seeing daily case numbers well into the hundreds and even thousands. Yet, because their populations are highly vaccinated, local restrictions are easing, travel bans are lifting and far fewer people are dying from and being hospitalised due to Covid-19. There is absolutely no reason why the same path out of the pandemic can’t happen here if as many people as possible get fully vaccinated.

The vaccine provides prevention from catching the virus in the first place, rather than curing someone who already has it and who could have already spread it to others by the time they test positive. By that time, it is too late. Prevention is infinitely better than a cure.

Thousands of people around the world have shared videos of themselves on ICU beds, begging others to get vaccinated so that more people don’t end up in the same horrible, life-threatening position as themselves. These people aren’t all necessarily anti-vaxxers; many of them are just young, healthy people who thought that they didn’t need a vaccine to be safe from Covid-19 because of their age and health status. The reality is that everyone of eligible age, regardless of their record of health, needs to be vaccinated. There are over 800,000 people in New Zealand under the age of 12 who are currently unable to get vaccinated, and there are an additional very small number of people who are unable to get vaccinated due to being severely health-compromised or having a history of severe reactions to vaccines. Therefore, those who can get vaccinated need to do so immediately, not only to protect themselves and their loved ones but also those who are unable to be vaccinated, which may include their own children or grandchildren depending on their age. It is important to respect that there are valid reasons why some people can’t get vaccinated, but laziness, complacency and selfishness are not any of these.

Nobody asked for Covid-19, or the lockdowns and illness and death that have come with it. But spending time blaming people for the outbreak isn’t going to speed up the process of returning to normality. Time is of the essence, and people’s lives, jobs and freedoms are on the line if we delay the vaccination process any further. Just because Covid-19 isn’t in every region of New Zealand right now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be soon. The uncertainty of when and where a new case could pop up only emphasises the importance of getting vaccinated now, no matter where in the country you are. Spread of the virus is inevitable, especially with the nature of the Delta variant, but the prevention of further lockdowns, economic loss and restrictions due of Covid-19 is still a very real possibility, even in Auckland. But to reach that stage, it is crucial that everyone who can get vaccinated goes and gets vaccinated, and does so as soon as possible. Today, tomorrow, this week. Waiting is no longer an option.

It is important to acknowledge that the vast majority of New Zealanders are doing the right thing, the kind thing and the necessary thing by getting vaccinated. The best thing each New Zealander can do right now is to get themselves fully vaccinated as soon as possible, and well over 70% of New Zealanders have done that, with nearly another 20% on their way to doing the same. For those of you that are already fully vaccinated, please continue to do your part for New Zealand’s long-term safety from Covid-19 by ensuring your family, friends and community do the same thing as you, and that they do so as soon as possible. When you talk to them, be kind, but be honest and direct as well. Give them the real facts about the vaccine and its development. Ensure that they are aware of the significant amount of testing that goes into every vaccine before it is distributed to the general population. The urgency of distributing a Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t mean that the development process was skimmed over in any way; instead, its development was prioritised and sped up so people could get vaccinated and thus protected from the virus as soon as possible. Tell them about your honest experiences with any side effects you encountered when you got vaccinated. And most of all, reassure them that two jabs in the arm, along with a slight ache for a day or two, is infinitely better than catching the virus, isolating for 14 days and risking further community transmission. Evidence from several reliable and fact-based sources shows that Covid-19 is the disease of the unvaccinated. But sometimes, unvaccinated people may trust what their families and loved ones have to say more than they trust something they’ve seen on the TV or read online from someone they don’t know personally. Please, talk to those you love about getting vaccinated in a kind and honest manner, and do it now. We cannot wait any longer.

One of the key issues of the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated is that the latter tend to be a much smaller group of people with a much bigger voice. They share their opinions widely, both online and in real life, even though their opinions are almost never based on any valid evidence or scientific facts. Misinformation about vaccines can spread like wildfire because anti-vaxxers are so vocal, therefore it is essential that those who are doing the right thing, which is the vast majority of New Zealand’s teenaged and adult population, share accurate, science-based information about vaccination, and stand up for what is right. While it is great that three million have quietly gone and had both of their vaccinations without a huge fuss, getting the next million vaccinated may be a harder task and some of those people might require a bit more of a nudge before they’re convinced that getting vaccinated is the right thing for them to do. So please, be part of that nudge. Be kind, encouraging and honest. Share valid information about vaccines. And please, speak up, because together the vaccinated population are far louder than those who are not doing, or are yet to do, the right thing.

Once the country reaches the 90% target – which, statistically, is only a matter of weeks away from being reached – the new Covid-19 Protection Framework will come into place. This change brings greater freedoms to those who are vaccinated than to those who are not vaccinated. It may seem like this kind of system could divide the nation into the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated, and this is something both politicians and members of the general public have commented on. This kind of division of the population doesn’t have to happen. Not again.

Almost exactly forty years ago, New Zealand faced an issue that did, to some extent, divide the nation. Some people felt that the South African Springboks should not be allowed to tour New Zealand in 1981 because their country’s apartheid system was immoral and racially discriminatory. Others felt that the issue of racism shouldn’t be taken into account and that rugby should just be played as is. Many families, friendships and relationships were divided because of opposing views on the matter. Have we, as a country, not learnt from the past? Moving forward together, as a team of 5 million, will prevent an issue as simple as public health from dividing families and loved ones in the same manner that the events of 1981 did.

Remember, many Kiwi families and loved ones are currently geographically divided due to border controls. By moving forward together through everyone of eligible age getting vaccinated as soon as possible, those we love overseas can come home and be with us again much sooner, and we will be able to travel to reunite with them too. But for that to happen in time for the holiday season, we need to act now. Not next week, not the week after that, now.

Covid-19 doesn’t spread in people based on their ethnic background, political opinions or religious beliefs. It spreads among those who are unvaccinated. The evidence of that is unquestionable. It is absolutely essential for everyone to do the right thing and get two simple jabs in the arm and to do it now. A popular social media post that was shared during the 2020 lockdowns said “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on the couch. You can do this”. Now, there’s an even better solution to the pandemic than sitting at home on the couch – getting vaccinated. Vaccination against getting a gunshot wound in battle wasn’t an option for our grandparents, but vaccination against the virus is an option for all of us. We CAN do this, New Zealand. In fact, we NEED to do this. For ourselves, for our whānau, for our community and for our country.

Everyone in New Zealand has the right to make their own choice about getting vaccinated or not. It is your right to say no. It is your responsibility to say yes.