'This is war': Top epidemiologist says give gangs money to help vaccination efforts

Lloyd Burr 15/10/2021

LISTEN: One of New Zealand's top epidemiologists who has helped advise the government on its COVID-19 response strategy is recommending a radical idea to help increase vaccination rates in gangs.

Auckland University professor Rod Jackson believes the government should give the gangs money.

"We absolutely have to get them on board," he told Lloyd Burr Live.

"They need to have the support to get all of their members vaccinated."

Jackson says gangs represent a community that "probably has been responsible" for spreading COVID-19 into Waikato and Northland.

He says people need to put aside their views on gangs at this time.

"New Zealand has one issue to face today and that is to get the nation vaccinated. There is no other priority today," he told Magic Talk.

Jackson is urging health officials to meet with senior gang leaders to discuss a strategy that gets them vaccinated and what further support they require.

"We need to pull out all the stops. They need to lead their own vaccination programme," he said.

We need to be there to support them.

Jackson says in order to help vaccinate gang members is to fund them.

"The potential disaster of those 400,000 people, that's the last 10 percent not getting vaccinated and getting COVID, it's a disaster beyond anything we've ever experience," he said.

But he denies that funding gangs is a radical idea and says people opposed to his suggestion need to "get serious".

"This is the biggest potential disaster New Zealand has faced since World War 2, by far."

Black Power life member Dennis O'Reilly agrees with Jackson.

"We are at war with the virus," he told Lloyd Burr Live.

"We need to engage with gang communities and other communities on the margins to be on the nation's side of that war."

O'Reilly understands the public appetite would be against funding the gangs and says that's "not the only way" of supporting their vaccination drive.

"There are many of us who have been working on the social margins for many decades who have managed, with the support of government agencies, to deliver services through channels and by ways that are transparent and accountable.

"I think that can be achieved in this case too," O'Reilly said.

Rod Jackson also believes we will get to a collective 90 percent vaccination rate but only if the government continues to mandate and "push hard" on vaccinations and crackdown on those attending sporting events.

"I wouldn't let anyone into a rugby game if they weren't double vaxxed," he told Magic Talk.

"I think we need to go further. It's got to be no jab, no job, no fun," 

Jackson says a Maori health leader needs to front up at the daily 1pm COVID briefings to provide a voice for Maori communities which are more vulnerable.

Listen to the full interviews with Rod Jackson and Dennis O'Reilly above.

Magic Talk | Lloyd Burr Live, weekdays from 4pm.

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