For Maungaturoto local May Seager, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 “just made sense”.
“I’m proactive when it comes to health because I’ve lost members of my family who could’ve lived for longer if we’d had more knowledge,” she says.
May lost her 56-year-old grandmother to cervical cancer when she was 10 years old.
“She was basically my mum. I lived with her and she adopted me. It had a huge impact on me when she died. I didn’t realise what she’d died of until I was 30 and we found her death certificate. My doctor had been telling me I needed to have a cervical smear, and once I read that piece of paper I had it done. And when they did my smear, I had abnormal cells and had to have laser therapy. I was only 32 at the time, and a mother of two. If I hadn’t had that smear, my story could’ve been very different.”
It wasn’t May’s last encounter with cancer.
A mammogram when she was 45 revealed breast cancer. May had a mastectomy, but in 2017 the cancer returned and May continues to battle advanced cancer, which has left her immune-compromised.
She has also lived with chronic asthma for 10 years, following a chest infection.
Health issues have affected May’s family, too. She lost a baby, had two premature daughters, and her stepson had encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that led to long-lasting effects. Her husband’s family has a history of prostate cancer, and he gets checked regularly.
“Health is a big thing for us.”
When it came time to get the COVID-19 vaccine, May says, “It was pretty much a no-brainer for me to go and have my vaccine. But it’s not just for myself. My Mum has COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a severe lung disease] and if I want to visit her, I should be keeping her safe.”
May also wanted to help protect vulnerable people in her local community, where she’s lived for 25 years.
“There’s a lady who just turned 95 in my church group, and we love her to bits. You’ve got to think about people like that – our friends and whānau who are vulnerable.”
Part of protecting the community is about preserving our quality of life, our culture, and the way we connect with each other, May says.
“I’m a Cook Islander, and Pacific people are all about getting up close and ‘kanohi ki kanohi’. The way this pandemic makes us live is contrary to the way we naturally operate, and that’s very difficult for us.
“Also, I want to be able to walk down the road and not have to take a wide berth from the person coming the other way. I don’t like that. I don’t want to be worried about who’s coming around the corner – have they got it, are they going to cough at me? I don’t want to have that fear in my life, so I’d rather be vaccinated.”
May is also aware of the impact COVID-19 could have on health services. Because of her health issues, she’s been involved in several consumer groups that give advice and insights from a patient’s perspective to healthcare organisations to help them provide better care. She has worked in this capacity with Northland DHB, Northland’s primary health entity Mahitahi Hauora, and the National Cancer Control Agency Te Aho o Te Kahu.
“What would our quality of care be like if a lot of people ended up in hospital with COVID-19? All those poor overrun staff struggling to cope … I don’t want to contribute to that.”
May had heard some of the fears about the vaccine from family and friends who had been swayed by misinformation circulating in their communities.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating that really smart people can get easily swayed. It’s important that people get the right information so they can make up their minds for themselves,” she says.
Despite her health conditions, May had no problems when she got her vaccine.
“It was fine. The staff were fantastic. I was a little bit tired the next day and I had an itchy arm but that was about it.”
May and her husband are both fully vaccinated, and all four of May’s children have had either their first dose or both doses.
“We’re all keen. I think my family want to protect me, too. They’ve heard the messages – do it for yourself, do it for your whānau, do it for your community.”
Note – Northland has 3,111 Pasifika eligible people for the COVID-19 vaccination. Of that number, 37.5 percent are fully vaccinated, 22.4 percent have had one dose and 39.9 percent are unvaccinated.