Published Wednesday 8 Sep 2021

Alfred Soakai talks vaccination of Pacific Peoples and Tongan Language Week.

Pictured: Alfred Soakai (left) with Junior Ulu, 2DHB Director of Pacific People's Health, and Henrietta Hunkin-Tagaloa, Pacific Director of Health at Tu Ora Compass Health.

Since Alfred Soakai joined the 2DHB COVID Response Team this year, his focus has been on promoting equity for Pacific People – making sure they are factored into decisions made and plans put in place as the ‘team of five million’ works to halt the spread of the virus.

Equity is about looking at how well different population groups are doing compared with each other, identifying where the differences are, and working to close the gaps. Pacific Peoples experience worse health outcomes than those of European background, and so Alfred’s role as Pacific equity lead is to do everything he can to make sure they have the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Our communities are most at risk with COVID-19," he says. "We see that during community outbreaks time and time again in Aotearoa. Our people need to get vaccinated, to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

“I’m thankful that the push for equity is coming from the very top in Government, and is echoed by our DHB leadership.”

The best part of his job is "seeing our Pacific communities rallying together and coming forward during the vaccination festival events we've been running across Wellington." Festival days have been held in clinics and churches, as Alfred’s team works to connect with communities in spaces where they are comfortable.

Alfred is one of approximately 300,000-350,000 Tongans worldwide, including those who live in Aotearoa. Born and raised in Tonga, he moved to New Zealand in 2019 to be with his wife and two children.

He says Tongan language week is "a time to reflect on our heritage. It serves as a reminder on how we're doing in passing our heritage to our children, informing them of they come from. Whether it's language, or other parts of our culture, this is the perfect time to do that. As we take our journeys into the future, it's good to know where we came from."

He'll be celebrating by wearing his ta'ovala when out and about with the vaccination programme, tuning in the online Tongan events in Wellington, and teaching his kids some new phrases.  

A fluent speaker, he invites ​staff at the 2DHBs to also learn and use Tongan phrases – 'it's a great way to celebrate with us'.

Find out more about the vaccination campaign.