Let's do our part to stop vaccine-preventable disease

Associate Professor El-Shadan Tautolo is Director of the Pacific Islands Families Study, which follows the health and development of 1,398 Pacific children and their parents since the children were born at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland in the year 2000. Based at AUT, it is the only prospective study specifically of Pacific peoples in the world. Here he looks at the importance of collective support for immunisation.

 

El-Shadan Tautolo

 

Vaccination for our Pacific communities is incredibly important in safeguarding our health and saving lives, especially now with COVID-19 spreading around the world.

 

In Aotearoa we have done well as a nation in combating COVID-19.

 

However, we must remain vigilant and prepare for possible future outbreaks to occur, while remembering that if borders open, the potential transmission into our neighbouring Pacific islands could be catastrophic.

 

Part of that preparation is the prevention of other infectious illness, and ensuring that we are not battling multiple diseases if COVID-19 spreads.

 

Nearly two decades ago, the Pacific Islands Families Study found that initiatives in Aotearoa to increase vaccination rates in our Pacific infants had worked It’s this research that our AUT video for Samoa Language Week is based on.

 

However, last year’s deadly outbreak of measles in Samoa shows us that we must not get complacent. Vaccination rates there had dropped, leaving the population vulnerable and resulting in many deaths, particularly amongst infants and children.

 

While there is a vaccine to help stop another such tragedy, unfortunately with COVID-19 there isn’t one yet.

 

Last year’s measles outbreak though reinforced the importance of acting fast. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in our corner of the world, Samoa was one of the first countries to secure its borders.

 

I encourage everybody to check with their doctor that they are fully up to date with all their recommended vaccines. We need to ensure our young children especially are protected.

 

All those born in Aotearoa from 2005 can easily find out if they are fully immunised, even if they changed clinics often, as their vaccine history is recorded on the National Immunisation Register.

 

For those of us born earlier, our doctors might know and can advise whether we should be tested or vaccinated It might be that some of our elderly population just don’t know their vaccination status- and we should encourage them to check.

 

My parents migrated fro the Islands many years ago. Several close family members had been the victims of some of those illnesses that were vaccine preventable such as meningococcal disease, and because of this my parents understood the potential consequences of not being vaccinated.

 

Similarly, when I became a parent with my own children, my wife and I, through the support of Plunket and Well Child Tamariki Ora, were proactive in making appointments with the clinic.

 

Although the needles were a little scary for our four kids, there have been no other issues. We were informed of some potential side effects, but for us, the risks of not being vaccinated are so much greater.

 

I also encourage everyone to make a special effort this year to get the annual flu vaccine, especially our elders and those vulnerable and at-risk who can receive this vaccine for free.

 

Studies have shown that Pacific people are more likely to have ongoing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease, putting us more at risk of sever health consequences from infectious diseases like COVID-19. In addition, our immune system does not want to have to be fighting influenza as well.

 

There is no vaccine yet for COVID-19. But if and when there is, and once we confirm it is backed by good science, we need as many 0of us as possible to be vaccinated, to protect not only ourselves, but especially those that can’t be vaccinated yet, both here and in the Islands.

 

For more information visit www.aut.ac.nz