People with mental health and addiction needs will have better access to COVID-19 vaccinations, other immunisations and health checks thanks to grants from a $2 million fund, National Director of Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand’s National Public Health Service Dr Nick Chamberlain has announced.

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunisation Peer Support Fund has awarded 14 grants to 19 Peer Support organisations across Aotearoa New Zealand. Peer support workers have lived experience of mental health needs and addiction, helping them build connections with people experiencing mental health and addiction needs and their whānau.

“People with mental health and addiction needs have a higher risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19, and it is important they are able to easily access vaccinations to protect themselves and their whānau,” says Dr Chamberlain.

“As well as focusing on increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations, the funding also enables a holistic approach to each person’s health and wellbeing needs, supporting access to other preventative services such as health checks and influenza vaccinations.

“Significant work has already been done to ensure the vaccination rollout meets the needs of these communities, including setting up vaccination centres with low sensory options, providing support for people with anxiety and needle phobia, and organising accessible transport.

“However, there is still work to be done. These grants will strengthen some of the vital community and sector-led Peer Support services that have proven effective through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The grants will be used for a range of initiatives, including setting up helplines, establishing new community outreach programmes, and providing transport to get people to vaccination clinics.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the mental health and addiction sector for their efforts supporting vaccinations for this important group,” says Dr Chamberlain.

The Ministry of Health worked with the Mental Health and Addictions sector to establish the new fund, with particular support from Platform Trust, the Equally Well collective and Te Pou.

The fund’s focus on initiatives involving Peer Support workers follows a key recommendation of He Ara Oranga: The Report of the Government Enquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. He Ara Oranga recommended strengthening the role that can be played in the sector by people with lived experience of mental health and addiction issues.

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunisation Peer Support Fund has awarded grants to the following organisations:

Arataki Ministries (in conjunction with Te Tai Tokerau Tāngata Whai Ora Network)

  • Based in Whangārei and serving Te Tai Tokerau, this programme provides Peer Support services to their community to support them in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as other health promotion services. Their service will include setting up a phoneline and delivering promotional communications to their community.

Auckland City Mission (Tāmaki Makaurau)

  • Recruiting and training two new full-time Peer Support workers, who will support those they work with to access COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as other immunisations and health promotion services.

Consortium application from Whakaoranga Whānau Recovery Hub (based in Kaikohe), Whakamana Tangata (based in Dargaville), Waipuna Ora (based in Moerewa) and Odyssey Auckland (based in Tāmaki Makaurau)

  • Serving mid- to far-north, this programme is building the capacity of its current Peer Support workforce to support whānau in addressing barriers to accessing vaccination and health services. This includes a Flexifund to help cover costs such as transport or GP fees, and building on current Saturday morning clinics run by Whakaoranga Whānau.
  • Odyssey has also been selected to take a Regional Coordination role for the Northern region, helping organisations in this space work together and with other entities, such as with Te Whatu Ora districts, and to share best practice.

Emerge (Mind and Body Consultants Ltd)

  • Based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Emerge (Mind and Body) will have a full time Peer Support worker to support access to COVID-19 vaccinations. They will also support outreach services, connecting those they work with to GP and health services and taking a holistic approach to wellbeing and COVID-19 vaccination decision-making.
  • Emerge (Mind and Body) will also take a National Coordination role, connecting with organisations, providers and with Te Whatu Ora districts across the country and sharing best practice.
  • Emerge (Mind and Body) also delivers services in Wellington and Christchurch and nationally through the 1737 Peer helpline.

Te Kupenga Net Trust (based in Tairāwhiti) and Manaaki Ora (based in Rotorua)

  • This programme involves employing two Peer Support workers to support their communities in accessing COVID-19 vaccinations and other health promotion initiatives.
  • Te Kupenga Net Trust and Manaaki Ora will also be providing Regional Coordination services in the Midlands/Te Manawa Taki region.

Centre 401

  • Based in Hamilton, this funding will be used to fine-tune tools Centre 401 already has in place and to implement health self-management resources for their community. Funding will be used to improve clients’ access to health and wellbeing services, such as COVID-19 vaccinations.

Balance Aotearoa

  • Based in Whanganui, this programme is providing local Peer Support for individuals and whanau, education sessions about vaccination, Government guidelines, caring for yourself and whānau through COVID-19 and general health and wellbeing. They will also connect with other health providers to support those they work with to access broader health services.
  • Balance will also provide support to local and national Peer-led organisations through training and sharing of health promotion resources.

Whatever It Takes Trust (Hawke’s Bay)

  • The Trust will leverage off their current vaccination programme and recruit an additional Peer Support worker to connect with communities and hold educational and health promotion hui, particularly with Māori and Pacific communities.

Amigos Peer Support Group (Wellington and Hutt Valley)

  • Recruiting paid staff members to support Amigos’ current wellbeing programmes and running a series of health promotion-related talks and question and answer sessions. 

Odyssey Christchurch

  • Broadening their current Peer Support services, communications and hui to cover COVID-19 vaccination education and other information around wider health and wellbeing.
  • Odyssey Christchurch will also play the Regional Coordination role in the Southern Region.

Otago Mental Health Support Trust (Otago and Southland)

  • Peer Support staff will be recruited to work across the lower South Island and work in partnership with local organisations and Te Whatu Ora districts to support their communities through the COVID-19 vaccination journey. They will also train staff to provide broader support in areas such as improving health literacy and supporting people through decision-making and receiving vaccinations more widely.

Health Action Trust (Nelson)

  • Will be expanding their existing COMPASS programme team to support those they work with in their region in their COVID-19 vaccination and broader wellbeing journey. This will include linking those they work with to telehealth and GP services, providing support to attend health and vaccination appointments and providing appropriate health promotion information, particularly around vaccination.

Comcare (Canterbury)

  • Will be funded to establish the Connect Project. This project will provide health promotion education, particularly around vaccination, to those Comcare supports and will help to address information and connect Comcare’s community with digital devices to support them to use online health resources such as My COVID Record. Comcare will also deliver Peer Health Coaching and work together with a range of mental health, AOD and health and wellbeing organisations in the region.

Needle Exchange Services Trust (South Island)

  • Will be running a Peer-led outreach model to support tāngata whai ora in their community to access a COVID-19 vaccination.