Famers vaccinate the populace

From our vantage point here in 2025, the story behind New Zealand’s successful Covid-19 vaccination programme during 2021 completely changed how international pandemic vaccination programmes are now run.

And yet this success happened by chance.

As the country began to vaccinate its populace, nagging doubts remained as to whether the system run by the Ministry of Health was up for the challenge. The previous year’s influenza rollout had been anything less than a success. A few year’s earlier, the ministry had botched the measles vaccination rollouts.

But luck or happenstance can often bring about welcome outcomes, and this is what happened in this case in a small rural backwater in an island nation at the end of the earth.

A sheep and beef farmer went into the Central Hawkes Bay health centre for his annual influenza shot.

The receptionist told him that unfortunately all the doctors were away sick, and the nurses weren’t allowed to administer the flu shot and of more concern, the perishable Covid-19 vaccine shipment that had just arrived.

The farmer said that he wouldn’t be able to come in again for a few weeks and would it be OK if he just gave himself the vaccination. He explained that he was an experienced vaccinator after a forty-year career and had done 10’s of 1000’s without any difficulty.

The receptionist didn’t think this would be allowed and asked others, but no one had heard that it was illegal. They looked up the protocols and then did some googling but no where did it say people weren’t allowed to vaccinate themselves.

So, they said they would allow him to do so but he would still have to stay for 10 minutes so that the nurse could ensure there were no adverse reactions.

He agreed so they provided him with the syringe which he plunged into his arm and then sat out his time reading a Woman’s Weekly with an interesting article of a women called Markle.

He watched the waiting room fill with expectant folk hoping to get their pandemic vaccination.

He once again approached the desk and said he’d be happy to administer the vaccination to these people given the vaccine was perishable and about to expire. He said it wasn’t a tricky operation putting a needle into the middle of a bicep and pushing in the plunger.

The staff didn’t think this was a good idea but again he pointed out his experience and that in all those years, he’d never lost an animal or had an adverse reaction.

This was a national crisis he told them and in times like these, one couldn’t be too rule bound.

This was a pragmatic rural practice, so they finally agreed and set the farmer up in a small room where he administered several hundred vaccinations over the rest of the afternoon.

Over a beer with the staff at the end of the day, they asked him how many he thought he could do in a day. He said he’d done 2500 sheep, but he didn’t think people would be that happy if he brought his Prattley Yards into town so assuming they would prefer to be sitting on a chair, probably 1000 if those preparing the syringes could keep up.

A decision was made, and the staff got onto the phones.

By the end of a fortnight, the farmer had vaccinated all Central Hawkes Bay and moved on down to Tararua.

News began to spread around the country and the Farmy Army was remobilised and farmers and vets took up the challenge and volunteered their services throughout the land in towns and cities.

They were averaging 55,000 vaccinations a day and within 3 months the country was vaccinated and safe from the ravages of the plague.

The urban population were incredibly grateful to their rural counterparts for picking up the gauntlet and running with it.

Other countries took notice and began to use their practical rural dwellers to exponentially increase their vaccination rates and by the end of the year, enough herd immunity existed that this particular pandemic fizzled out.

When the next large scale vaccination programme is required, farmers and vets will be the first to be called.

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