On the Front Line – Life of a vaccinator

Cooking up a storm is how Michelle Edge relaxes after a day out vaccinating.

A Waipā nurse vaccinator on Covid’s front line says she’s convinced mobile vans going into Waikato’s far flung rural areas is the answer to reaching the 90 per cent fully vaccinated target.

Michelle Edge, who works for Waikato District Health Board (DHB), says she’s had people in remote places getting their vaccinations and then thanking the team.

“They’ve said to me: ‘Thank you so much for coming to our community. We didn’t think anyone was going to come and see us. People said they were feeling forgotten,” says Edge, a nurse since 1994.

“It reminds you the Waikato region is massively rural. You can’t underestimate the mobiles because of those small pockets.”

Michelle Edge vaccinates Ramona Waho in Piopio.

Edge has visited places in the Waikato she had never been before. This week she was in Māpiu, Waimiha, Ohura and Kakahi. In previous weeks she has been vaccinating in Awakino, Te Akau, Piopio, Kawhia and Tahāroa.

“We work in tandem with our kaimanaaki and we’ve formed a bond as a cohesive team,” she says.

Kaimanaaki are the navigators of Manaakitanga (People at Heart), Waikato DHB’s Māori strategy.

Their role is to uphold the values of Manaakitanga and ensure that each person is cared for during their vaccination experience.

Waikato DHB has a population of more than 435,690 and covers more than 21,000 square kilometres from northern Coromandel to Mt Ruapehu, west to Raglan to Waihi on the east. Nearly a quarter of the population are Māori, the largest number of any DHB in the country.

“When we went out to Tahāroa, they all queued up for their vaccinations because they knew ‘no jab, no mahi’. When we go back, they’ll queue up for their second jabs too,” she said.

Edge, a former emergency department nurse, started last year at the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facility in Te Rapa, Hamilton.

There she saw all sorts of issues.

“We had people who’d had anxiety issues in the past and they came back. It tests your mental health skills, but it also sharpens your communication skills, particularly visual.

“Sometimes you might look at them and the first few days they are quite chatty and then they go very quiet.”

Another time she helped a woman completing assignments while in MIQ but getting increasingly concerned about her papers while talking to friends.

Others were lonely, missing family and worrying.

“You try and trouble shoot, do things like say: ‘Want to go for a walk?’”

“Fourteen days is a long time. You realise how social we are. You knew the ones that wanted to natter, you took the time with them.”

Others handled it fine, like the lady who did scrapbooking. She had a mobile printer and worked on her Christmas calendars and reflected on the fact she was having French toast for breakfast every day.

Michelle Edge at Mokau Kohunui marae in Piopio.

Edge started as a vaccinator in June; her first stint was at Te Rapa Racecourse where older people queued up, arms at the ready for their vaccinations.

“They just said to me: ‘off you go, give it to me’.”

There have been others who were not so sure.

“We were at one of the rural sites recently. This guy’s mind was full of information and he wanted all the answers. One of the nurses must have spent 30-40 minutes with him. He got vaccinated and he was heading back to tell all his mates about it,” she said.

While some trips might not seem worthwhile, Edge argues otherwise.

“We got eight people when we first went to Awakino and the population is 50 so that’s 15 per cent of the population.

“It’s eight more than we had and those eight are going to talk to someone else and so it goes.

“When we go back, you can bet there will be more.”

In another area some said they were rural, so the vaccination did not matter.

“They said ‘we hardly come into town, it’s (Covid) not going to bother us’, but it just takes one meeting to get Covid.”

Home in Leamington, Cambridge is her refuge after days spent decked out in full protective gear and hours on the road.

“I do my garden, I plough through the work in there, I cook and I’ve got two new dogs who keep me on my toes.”

Does she ever worry about getting Covid herself?

“I wear my mask; I wash my hands. If I got it, I’m double vaccinated, my symptoms will be less. I don’t envisage taking up an ICU bed, I don’t think I’ll even need hospital. I will just go into my own bubble.”

Read more: In Focus – Michelle Edge.

Michelle Edge loves spending time in her garden and with dogs Barney, left, and Betty, right, when she’s not on the road with the mobile vaccination team.

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