NZ's 'most isolated man' gets vaccinated

Robert Long, who last came in from the coast in July, plans to get his next vaccination in April which is when he plans to return to town from Gorge River. Photo: Vera Alves
Robert Long, who last came in from the coast in July, plans to get his next vaccination in April which is when he plans to return to town from Gorge River. Photo: Vera Alves
For most Kiwis, getting vaccinated takes no more than an hour or two - and even that can be met with grumblings of inconvenience.

Precious few have the right to complain within earshot of Robert Long - dubbed New Zealand's most isolated man - who lives at Gorge River, a two-day walk from Haast on the South Island's West Coast.

In spite of his access barriers, the 66-year-old can now count himself among the near four million Kiwis who have had their first vaccination after he received his first dose at the Wanaka Medical Centre today.

This time, Robert - along with wife Catherine - chose to fly inland before driving to Wānaka. As part of the journey, they would be seeing their two children - Robin and Christian - before all convening back home for Christmas.

It's the first time in almost six months Robert has left his home on the coast. Traditionally, he only makes trips "into town" twice a year.

"You sort of feel like [vaccination is] part of your civic duty I suppose," he said.

"If they're trying to get 90 per cent vaxxed so the country can get back to some kind of normal again, you don't want to be holding that up.

Catherine Long receives her second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo / Vera Alves
Catherine Long receives her second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo / Vera Alves
"Also, I suppose you want to be protected."

Robert was honest about his prior experience with vaccinations, citing a few bad reactions.

While he believed in having of a strong immune system, Robert recognised how the vaccine would boost its capability.

"If vaccination is going to help my immune system to deal with it in a better way, then I might as well take that opportunity, otherwise there is a bit of a risk involved."

In addition, Robert acknowledged how not being vaccinated might affect some of his other hobbies.

"Hopefully Mitre 10 don't mind single vaxxers because I wouldn't want to have to send Catherine in there to do my hardware shopping because that's my favourite thing," he said.

Catherine received her second dose at the same time as Robert received his first, as she made the journey inland more often throughout the year.

Having worked in immunology, Catherine said the family was selective in what vaccinations they had given their children.

However, she saw the Covid-19 vaccine as an essential tool.

"[Covid is] there, it's affecting you right now, it's just obvious, you have to have a bloody good reason not to."

In recent months, rural vaccination providers had been utilising more mobile approaches to access isolated communities where residents hadn't been as engaged with the vaccination rollout.

Wanaka Medical Centre director Dr Julian Pettit said the centre had vaccinated a few West Coasters. West Coast DHB was at 89 per cent first dose and 80 per cent second dose.

"Gorge River was quite an extreme example of remoteness but the lower West Coast was also a couple of hours drive from here, so it's quite a wide geographical region," he said.

The centre started by doing weekend clinics, then integrated the vaccination drive into the daily clinic hours and into the evening, so people can go and get their vaccine after work.

Pettit praised the Long couple for the "amazing effort" coming into Wānaka to get their jabs and stressed the importance of people in isolated communities getting the vaccine.

"The Covid virus will find its way into these isolated communities one way or another and seek out the unvaccinated," he said.

"If you're in contact with other people, you will get the virus at some point."

The director said a huge amount of work had gone into getting everyone in the region vaccinated. Wānaka this morning reached 90 per cent vaccination rate for the eligible population.

"I would like to really thank all the hard work of all the people doing the vaccination, it's been a huge body of work, people putting in the extra hours on the weekend and staying late every day," he said.

"It'll reduce the number of people I have to look after who are ill with Covid. I think this time next year, we will be living with Covid and you will either have been vaccinated or you will be infected with Covid and there's a chance you could die or become very unwell.

"I have a couple of patients who were infected with Covid in March 2020 and still suffer long-term Covid symptoms. You can become quite disabled by it, even if you don't die."

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