New Zealand wants a 90% vaccination rate. His street gangs may hold the key.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Rawiri Jansen, a Maori doctor, had an urgent message for the 150 people, mostly patch-wearing members of New Zea...


AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Rawiri Jansen, a Maori doctor, had an urgent message for the 150 people, mostly patch-wearing members of New Zealand’s many street gangs and their families, who were seated in front of him by a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Covid is coming for them, he said. Cases in New Zealand hospitals are increasing rapidly. Soon, dozens of new infections a day could be hundreds, if not thousands. People will die. And vaccination is the only defense. “When your doctors are afraid, you should be afraid,” he said.

At the end of the day, after an extensive question-and-answer session with other healthcare professionals, approximately one-third of those present chose to receive a dose on the spot.

After abandoning its highly successful ‘Covid-zero’ elimination strategy in response to an outbreak of the Delta variant, New Zealand is now going through a difficult transition in trying to keep coronavirus cases as low as possible. The country set a goal on Friday to have at least 90% of the eligible population immunized – a goal, the highest in the developed world, whose success hinges on persuading people like those who have come together to hear the news. Dr Jansen.

Already, 86 percent of the eligible population has received at least one dose. But the bottom percent are the hardest to reach, and a group of particular concern is the gang community, many of whose members are Maori or Pacific Islanders, who make up about a quarter of the total population. In the past two months, multiple outbreaks have been reported among gangs, a group less likely to comply with official vaccination efforts, forcing officials to cooperate with gang leaders to reach their communities.

New Zealand has one of the highest gang membership rates in the world. There are around 8,000 gang members in the country, according to the most recent police estimates, and many suffer from urban poverty. Including family and associates, the size of the community could be 10 times that of a country of five million people, said Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and author of “Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand. “

New Zealand gangs have a long history, often inspired by similar American groups. In 1961, it became the first country outside of the United States to have a chapter of the Hells Angels. From the 1970s, ethnically based gangs, including the Maori majority Black Power and the Mongrel Mob, spread. For Maori who had settled in New Zealand’s urban centers, gangs became an essential way of moving away from traditional tribal structures.

More recently, Dr Gilbert said, some have been drawn to gangs because of their association with for-profit crime, particularly drug dealing. New Zealand is a lucrative market for methamphetamine, and gang members have been among those caught up in major police attacks.

The link between gangs and organized crime, however, is not entirely straightforward, Dr Gilbert said. “New Zealanders tend to look at gangs with a single lens around crime, whereas the scene is and always has been a lot more nuanced than that,” he said. Even within a single gang, he added, some chapters can be highly criminalized while others are more community-based.

Since the 1960s, New Zealand politicians have sought to score points by promising to crack down on gangs or publicly criticizing them. Attempts to engage with gangs have tended to grab headlines: a government grant of around $ 2 million to a drug rehab program linked to members of the Mongrel Mob was intensely criticized, including by police chiefs.

But during the current coronavirus outbreak, police and the Department of Health have worked with gangs to help with vaccinations and contact tracing. Two Mongrel Mob bosses, Harry Tam and Sonny Fatupaito, received border exemption passes for “critical workers”, allowing them to cross from one region to another.

Since then, social organizations with existing relationships both with the New Zealand government and with gangs and other marginalized groups have been delegated as envoys to these hard-to-reach communities. They received grants to help bring people together for the shot.

“We don’t traditionally have the means to connect with them,” Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone, Pacific health director for New Zealand, said of gangs. “And by finding the people who can and giving them the information, you’re much more likely to be successful. “

A social change organization called Cause Collective is one of the groups that has helped build bridges.

“Health officials now realize that ‘we don’t really know the communities, the hard-to-reach communities,’ so they need professionals in these areas,” said hip-hop producer Danny Leaosavai’i. , also known as Brotha D., who works with the organization and has a long-standing connection with gang leaders.

What to know about Covid-19 booster injections

The FDA has cleared booster shots for millions of drug recipients Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna beneficiaries who are eligible for a recall include people 65 years of age and older and young adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 due to medical conditions or their workplace. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna beneficiaries may receive a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second injection at least two months after the first.

Yes. The FDA has updated its clearances to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they originally received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you have received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is best to stick to the same vaccine when possible.

The CDC said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and some disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The FDA has cleared the boosters for workers whose work puts them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The CDC says this group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agricultural workers; manufacturing workers; correctional workers; workers in the US postal service; public transport workers; employees of grocery stores.

Yes. The CDC says the Covid vaccine can be given regardless of the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy websites allow people to schedule a flu shot along with a booster dose.

Chris Hipkins, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s response to Covid-19, admitted earlier this month that the decision to enlist gang leaders was unusual.

“Our No.1 priority here is to stop Covid-19 in its tracks, and that means doing what we need to do to deal with the virus,” he said. “Where we were able to bring in gang leaders to help us, and where they were willing to do so, we did. “

Some gang leaders have acted independently to help with the vaccination effort. They connected members of their community with health officials, organized events with health professionals like Dr Jansen and broadcast events on Facebook Live to allow an open forum for questions about rare risks for health. In some cases, they themselves brought vaccines to communities.

“Our community is probably less well informed; they are probably not as competent when it comes to health, ”said Mr Tam, the Mongrel Mob member, who is a former civil servant and who received the exemption at the border. Constant media criticism has prevented them from reading traditional media, he added.

“They then go to social media because they have a lot more control,” he said. “It’s also a space that perpetuates conspiracy theories and misinformation and everything.” Advice on health needs to come from trusted people and community leaders, he said.

Over the past week, Mr. Tam has traveled most of the country organizing contextual immunization events for members and their communities, as well as coordinating with other section leaders to have their members immunized, a he declared.

It was hard work that put him at personal risk, he said, and invited intense skepticism from those who viewed gangs only as violent or linked to organized crime.

“Why are we bothering? Mr. Tam said. “We care because we care about those people that others don’t care about, that simple. They can talk about my gang affiliation, everything else. But it is this affiliation that allows me to have this penetration, this foot in the door. I can do the things they can’t.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New Zealand wants a 90% vaccination rate. His street gangs may hold the key.
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