A new Catholic Church campaign supporting the COVID-19 vaccine programme focusses on ethnic and religious communities that are fearful of getting vaccinated because of misinformation.
Te Kupenga - Catholic Leadership Institute Chief Executive Dr Areti Metuamate says the ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ campaign aims to reach people in about 10 ethnic communities and allay fears they may have about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
"As the vaccine is now being offered to more members of the public, including those in at risk MÄori and Pasifika communities, we want to urge people to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their whÄnau and their community."
To demonstrate the importance of getting the vaccine, as well as its safety, Cardinal John Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington and President of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, and St Anne’s Newtown Parish Priest, Father Doug Shepherd, received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine today, alongside representatives of MÄori and Pasifika communities.
"It’s important that as leaders in the church and Pasifika community we show unity and strength against this virus for our communities to follow," Dr Metuamate says.
The campaign, which includes a video and handouts in English, Tongan and Samoan, encourages families to work together for the wellbeing of their community. It also addresses fears people may have.
Dr Metuamate says that Catholic Church leaders have been extremely concerned about the misleading information spread by some high-profile people regarding the Covid-19 virus and the Pfizer vaccine being offered free to all those living in New Zealand. "We have heard the misinformation ourselves and some of us have received material in our mailboxes, so we know it has raised questions and concerns.
"Some of the misinformation circulating is leading people to believe the vaccine may change their DNA or even give them Covid-19. It is biologically impossible for the vaccine to affect a person’s DNA and the vaccine does not contain any live virus. We think it is important to directly address this sort of misinformation in a targeted way.
"Hundreds of millions of people around the world have received the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccine is safe and effective but there is much to fear from not being vaccinated."
Dr Metuamate says the Pasifika community is a key focus of the campaign. There are nearly 400,000 Pasifika people in New Zealand according to the 2018 Census, with most living in Auckland, Waikato and Wellington. "The key factor to us, and why we know we can play an important role, is that nearly 80% of Pasifika people have some form of religious affiliation."
The Government has identified churches as being critical to circulating accurate and reliable information to their congregations and communities on the importance and safety of getting vaccinated. The Catholic leadership takes their advice about vaccines from reputable doctors, scientists and the Catholic Bishop’s own bioethics agency, the Nathaniel Centre.
Catholic leaders are currently in discussions with Pacific Health officials and TÅ« Ora Compass Health about holding a special vaccination clinic at St Anne’s church in Newtown for members of the congregation and other community members. "We are offering our churches as a safe and welcoming place in the centre of the community for people to come and receive their vaccination, as it makes sense to establish clinics there. The people will be much more responsive to vaccinators coming to a community hub that is familiar to them."
The video and other campaign information , which is being circulated to all Catholic parishes and schools, can be accessed at