By Neil Bryant, Head of Analytics, Data Insight
When access to COVID vaccinations opened up for all Kiwis back in August, I booked in at my local GP as soon as I could. I got into my car, left my wife and child at home, drove five minutes down the road and waited 10 minutes, had my jab, waited the obligatory 20 minutes and was home again in under an hour. It was very easy. And this got me thinking; if it’s this easy, why are some parts of New Zealand struggling so much to increase vaccination rates? Are they all anti-vaxxers or is there something else at play here?
The harsh reality is that for many Kiwis, getting in a car and driving to a vaccination centre isn’t so simple. There are a number of social and economic factors that greatly impact a person’s ability and desire to get vaccinated. It seems, this is a polarising topic – there’s a lot of judgement and finger pointing happening without fully understanding what drives a person to get vaccinated, or not. Being a data guy, I wanted to see what the numbers could tell me.
High deprivation leads to lower levels of vaccination
COVID vaccination rates around New Zealand have a strong correlation to the NZ Deprivation Score (NZDep) of a suburb. The NZDep is an area-based measurement of socioeconomic deprivation in New Zealand. It is based on several variables from our census including things like the number of beneficiaries, low-income earners, unemployment, qualifications, home ownership and so on. The higher the deprivation score, the higher the number of vulnerable people living in the area.
Here’s what the data showed:
The higher the deprivation score, the lower the vaccination rate.
It is worth noting that not all DHBs are affected equally – this is primarily because some DHBs have a higher number of low socio-economic areas within them than others, and therefore have a stronger correlation. As an example, Counties Manukau has a much stronger correlation of deprivation vs vaccine rate than Waitemata, however Waitemata has significantly less suburbs that have above average deprivation than Counties Manukau.
One of the big drivers here is education. The data shows, suburbs with a higher percentage of people with no formal qualifications are less vaccinated. Conversely, suburbs with a large percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher are significantly more vaccinated.
I found similar trends regarding internet connectivity, which is also strongly correlated to both deprivation and vaccination rates. Areas with low internet connectivity have lower rates of vaccination.
Access, life priorities and fear factor are likely affecting vaccination rates
While the data provides one piece of the puzzle being that low socioeconomic suburbs have lower vaccination rates, it does not necessarily provide the reasons why. The first thought that came to mind was access to vaccination. Could it be that getting to a vaccination centre is difficult? That there may not be a vehicle at home to use and taking a taxi or public transport is a financial stretch? Or that there isn’t another person available to mind the children while the adult goes and gets vaccinated?
My second thought was motivation. We know that many families living in suburbs with higher deprivation scores have the added financial pressure during lockdown of needing to provide additional meals for their children who would normally have received one or two at school. The concern for this basic need may outweigh the motivation to get vaccinated.
And thirdly the fear factor comes into play, especially as education levels in the area drop. The large volumes of misinformation about COVID and the vaccines has been well documented and it’s likely that those living in regions with lower levels of education are possibly more susceptible to the fear generated from the spreading of false information.
If you combine all these factors, it does provide some insight into why some people may not be able, or have the desire to get vaccinated. And while it may be easy to create our own stories about why groups of people aren’t getting vaccinated, the reality is never quite as simple.
What’s the solution?
Pinpointing down to a single solution for a complex problem is never easy. However, there are a few initiatives that I believe can support a path towards achieving New Zealand’s vaccination goal, based on the data.
Interestingly, as soon as I started to dig into why people may not be getting vaccinated, I found that Auckland is running several initiatives providing free transport (taxis and public transport) as well as in-home visits for anyone struggling to get to a vaccination centre. This information was available on DHB websites but not overtly advertised (that I have seen). Indeed, when I asked around, nobody I spoke to was aware of these initiatives. So perhaps there is still some merit in my hypothesis if there is low awareness of the additional support being rolled out, particularly if internet access is not readily available within the communities with lower levels of vaccination.
The help is available for Aucklanders, but they may not be aware of it. And for the rest of the country where these initiatives are not available, access is surely a contributing factor in regions with low vaccination rates.
Based on what the data tells us and what I can surmise, I think there are two things that can be done here:- First, increase the awareness of the initiatives available in Auckland. Instigate a robust campaign that tells people what help is available to them
- Second, measure the uptake on the initiatives and use the data to roll out the successful initiatives in other regions with low vaccination levels.
At the end of the day, what the data is telling us here is that there’s more sides to a story than how it may appear. And that even though the threat of COVID and whether to get vaccinated has a large presence in our lives, it’s not the only thing we have to contend with. Let’s make sure we don’t polarise or judge and instead let the data do the talking.
Neil started at Data Insight in 2015 and is now the head of analytics, providing support to both our clients and team members. He has accumulated significant experience in helping clients across the finance, government, retail, and telco industries over the last few years, particularly on delivering data driven solutions.