Otago farmer who contracted Covid-19 urges vaccination

Roxburgh farmer Robyn Pannett caught Covid-19 last year and is still feeling the impact of the virus today. Photo: Supplied
Roxburgh farmer Robyn Pannett caught Covid-19 last year and is still feeling the impact of the virus today. Photo: Supplied
Some farmers impacted by one of last year's high-profile Covid-19 clusters are encouraging people to get vaccinated, no matter where they live in the country.

As the global pandemic was being declared in March last year, around 400 delegates from around the world were attending the World Hereford conference in Queenstown.

There were 39 people identified in the cluster, including Roxburgh farmer Robyn Pannett. She became very sick and is still feeling the impact of the virus - even today.

"I still have a really distorted sense of taste and smell. At the same time, my immunity is not where it was. And I am a bit more fatigued. So it has had an ongoing effect."

Pannett said when she got Covid-19, there was no managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) and not much was known about the disease. She described her experience with Covid-19 as scary and horrible.

When it came to Covid-19, anyone could be in the wrong place at the wrong time - and wherever people lived, they should get vaccinated, she said.

"I feel strongly about vaccination and even though we have some natural immunity from having had the infection before, I still lined up for my two doses."

Pannett said a way to encourage vaccinations was to give people the flexibility of walk-in appointments. She said farmers were used to vaccinating their livestock for diseases, so understood the good they did.

Waikato farmer Colin Corney was president of the New Zealand Hereford Association at the time of last year's conference and backed up Pannett's message.

"In the farming world, we are very stringent on ensuring that animal welfare is at the forefront. So why don't we do that for ourselves."

He said the outbreak at the conference was a very challenging time and he did not hesitate to get vaccinated when the opportunity came up.

"Covid's real, we need to look after not just ourselves but also look after our children and our businesses as well as the country.

"In the industry I work in, most of the people have gone out and got vaccinated."

Corney said as well as protecting colleagues, friends and their families by getting the vaccine, it helped ensure farmers could keep earning a living and doing their essential work producing food.

Recently Federated Farmers has been talking to health authorities about how to handle any Covid-19 outbreak on a farm since it may be hard to send a farmer to isolation, leaving the farm animals.

The Rural General Practice Network has been asking for data on rural vaccinations from the Ministry of Health. It believes the rates for rural communities, and rural Māori in particular, are lagging.

Waikato University rural health professor Roger Strasser said while the roll-out had improved, he still believed coverage was patchy in the regions and agreed more data was needed.

"The data isn't collected in a way to actually be sure who is vaccinated and who is not.

"Now we are aiming for 90 percent of people being vaccinated, every individual counts."

The Ministry for Health said it could not provide information about vaccination rates in rural areas as it only kept data at a DHB level.

But it said it was focused on ensuring equal access to the Covid-19 vaccine for everyone who was eligible.

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