Whereever you live in Aotearoa – covid is on its way, and it’s time to plan – which will undoubtedly result in a loss of freedom of some sort.
Our government has abandoned the elimination strategy, and while we are still determined to get as many of our people protected through vaccines, we will likely not catch up in time to avoid severe impacts, and are focusing on being prepared for its arrival now. It’s a scary prospect for Tairawhiti district, with a population of 50,000, only 6 ICU beds, 2 ventilators, and even though in Matakaoa there is very strong vaccine uptake… elsewhere in the region, we have some of the lowest uptake in the country.
It means our ICU could be overwhelmed very easily, and the flow on effects from that don’t just rest with covid cases – serious injuries, heart attacks, pregnancy emergencies, all rely upon ICU beds and the specialist skills that go with them.
Here, in our household, all eligible adults are vaccinated. We’ve encouraged the community and all those who want to return home to get vaccinated too…. but it’s still a worry. My children are too young to vaccinate, and one has a chronic respiratory condition that has placed her in hospital just with the regular flu in the past.
So what does preparation for its arrival look like? Well I’ll go through what that looks like for us but before I do I want to point out – there have been a LOT of discussions about personal freedoms. People feel that their freedoms are being taken away by the government, and believe that it is their basic human right to choose whether they vaccinate or not. And they are right, to an extent. As others have pointed out – human rights come with limitations, and those limitations generally kick in when your personal decisions impact on other people’s rights to wellbeing, or even right to life. For instance you have the human right to adequate housing, that does not give you the right to kick me out of my home and take it for yourself.
Now I completely accept that even with the vaccine, there is a chance that I could catch covid and pass it on to my children anyway. I also accept, however, the overwhelming evidence that I am significantly LESS likely to catch covid and pass it on, if I am vaccinated. For my babies, if it means even just one percent less risk – I will take it. Every degree of risk matters. Every single one of you who have chosen to be vaccinated not just for yourselves but for your community… I am so thankful for the risk that you have reduced for our most vulnerable.
So that brings us to our whanau plan. Now we must look at everything else we can do to reduce risk for our babies, and what that means, is that we will be giving up a whole lot of freedoms.
- We are pulling them out of their kura. It’s a heartbreaking decision because they love their kura, but there is no way for us to know whether their classmates are in a household with other unvaccinated adults. There is no way to know if their classmate’s households are covid conscious about who visits, or the households they visit, or how they move through the community. I can’t possibly expect the kura to plan or control for these risks either. So we are going to homeschool them while we get our heads around how best to keep them safe.
- Our girls will lose the company of their friends, they will lose some of the social learning that comes from being a part of the kura community, they will lose the opportunity to learn and grow with their Koka, and Matua of their community – an opportunity I have dreamed of for my children since I was little, myself, and a big part of the reason we moved home. They will lose access to the incredible matauranga they had access to at that kura, through those wonderful Koka and Matua.
- Attending community gatherings, be it at marae or elsewhere, will also be off for our household, for all of the reasons above, and it’s upsetting all over again, for all of the reasons above.
- We are restricting visitors to our home. We don’t accept unvaccinated visitors anymore. Yes it’s everyone’s choice whether they vaccinate or not, but it’s also our choice to protect our home from every degree of risk that comes with your choice. There are those we dearly love who have chosen not to vaccinate. Even in disagreeing, they are still our whanau and we still love them, but we will not risk our children’s wellbeing for that love. Even for children visiting, that is only for those who come from fully vaccinated households whom we are confident are covid-conscious, and I can tell you… that list is depressingly small.
- I’m no longer accepting invites to speak or meet outside of our region, and even within our region, I will opt for zooms or outdoor venues. It will limit my income – I depend on travel for some of my contracts, so those contracts will have to be relinquished.
- Whanau holidays are off, for now. We have maybe 3 households that we would be comfortable staying with (and we would be getting tested before we overnight with anyone, in addition to being regularly swabbed/tested anyway) but to be honest we will be limiting travel for the most part, altogether.
As we watch the vaccination levels rise, and we watch covid case levels (hopefully) drop, and we observe the science around covid, we will re-assess our decisions around the protections we are taking as a whanau, but for now, as this ngangara draws near, we are making all the plans we can to keep our children safe. Not because we trust the government, not because we blindly trust science or media either, but because I have rigorously assessed the studies myself, for my whanau, to understand the best way to keep my children safe, and because I have friends who I love dearly, who have passed from covid, and other loved ones who are living with it raging all around them.
It could be so much worse, and I’m keenly aware of our own privilege in the decisions we have made – we are fortunate that we can sacrifice these freedoms and still have some sort of income – others are not as fortunate. I have friends who have family that are immuno-compromised, and because of the lack of restrictions and low vaccination rates around them, they are pretty much imprisoned in their home. I have other friends who have immuno-compromised family, and young children, and are frontline workers without any other job prospects, and so they live in fear every day. I have other friends who did not have these choices, and contracted covid, and are no longer with us.
So you see – the freedoms being declared as rights by those who choose to not vaccinate, impacts on the freedoms available to the rest of us, and for our children as well. We are all considering our freedoms here. I, personally, take some hope in history telling us that vaccine acceptance eventually sets in as fear passes… that happened with many other vaccines that were, at first, feared and rejected.
Until then, we will continue to plan. If you are looking to plan around your safety as well – here are some handy tips. Kia kaha. Noho haumaru koutou, otira tatou katoa.