Minister for Disability Issues supports Tiaki - our vaccine drive to get disabled people jabbed against COVID-19


Published 14 September 2021


Tiaki which we formally launched today, was led by our Chair and New Zealand’s oldest Thalidomide survivor, Barry de Geest with the support of the Minister of Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni.

Barry was born without arms and with short legs as a result of being exposed to Thalidomide, so it’s not surprising he wasn’t lining up for the vaccine at first. Yet he has made waves in the community for sharing his story from being vaccine hesitant to becoming a vaccine champion. As it turned out, he received his first COVID-19 dose just four days before the Delta strain was detected in Auckland and New Zealand moved to the highest alert level to contain the virus.

At the launch of our Tiaki programme, Barry and his wife Bronwyn received their second vaccine publicly at the Papakura Marae Vaccination Centre. Our Tiaki aims to reach the more than 13,000 disabled people and their families in Auckland and partner with community groups to boost efforts to engage, coordinate and vaccinate tāngata whaikaha/disabled people in Tāmaki Makaurau. Our work is focused on providing a personalised approach to people and their whānau and supporting them to navigate their options to access the vaccine. 

Barry said while he has always had negative reservations around the medical establishment, the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. By receiving his vaccination publicly, he hopes to encourage other New Zealanders with disabilities to also come forward and get it too.

“For my entire life I have been wary of vaccinations, but after seeing the harmful effects of COVID-19 around the world and in New Zealand, I am proud to say I support the vaccine,” he said. “My wife and I are now fully vaccinated and I would encourage every New Zealander, disability or not, to do the same.”

“A lot of New Zealanders with disabilities don’t have faith in the health system and I can understand that, for a long time I was also hesitant. But I have done the research and I know now that the vaccine will keep me and others safe and it will help immune compromised people stay safe and healthy.”

“Based on my conversations with people, vaccine hesitancy and access are significant issues among tāngata whaikaha/disabled people. Some are medically fragile and grapple with the risk of experiencing serious side effects due to underlying health conditions.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people with disabilities and people with underlying health conditions. People who receive long-term services and supports in the community face an elevated risk of COVID-19 infection.  

Based on Ministry of Health data, 37% of around 45,000 people who receive Disability Supports and Services (DSS) nationwide and are eligible for vaccination have been fully vaccinated. Our Tiaki outreach will provide more insight on what disabled people in Tāmaki Makaurau need to access the vaccine and the barriers they experience in participating in nationwide health initiatives.

Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni is pleased to support Taikura’s efforts in encouraging vaccinations amongst our disabled community.

“Being vaccinated will be one of our greatest protections against COVID-19, and the messages I’ve heard when meeting with disabled people is that it’s important DHBs know to continue prioritising disabled people in the vaccination programme,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

“There are many examples of great practice already.  For example, the Hutt Valley DHB and Autism New Zealand provided an autism friendly vaccination option. I have heard that the autistic friendly approach meant that autistic people, who have never before participated in vaccination programmes, were able to access vaccinations through this process. I am told similar approaches have now been picked up in many DHBs.

“Our Government is committed to ensuring that every effort is being made to support disabled people to access the vaccination programme in a timely manner.” Carmel Sepuloni said.