GUEST BLOG: John Tamihere – Working on the Vaccination and Covid testing lines


I write this column as a tribute to the thousands of essential workers that break their bubble to stand up front line services including Covid Testing and Covid Vaccination centres across Aotearoa.

I focus solely on the Whānau Ora teams up and down the country and write from their experience on the front line.

The beauty of lockdowns – if there is anything to be chuffed about – is the removal of layers of bureaucrats’, compliance and paper shuffling.

Regretfully the massive resources these bureaucrats are endowed with are never transferred to a Whānau Ora movement that can deploy them in a timely, managed and measured way.

For most essential workers, the day starts at 6am because many have to travel to and from the site of which they are employed.

Health and safety protocols become essential in securing the mana of each and every individual, leaving their whānau to work at the front line and all must be vaxxed.

Add a rolling series of Covid Testing over a five day period which is required to give confidence to the workforce and their whānau.

Every vax and Testing centre have had Covid positive clients go through their site but the system cannot stop or close down because it is imperative that every Kiwi who wants a Vaccination or Test is delivered one.

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The whole of the heath system works on allied staff, noting that nurses are the backbone of the whole system.

In Maori terms they are called the Poutokomanawa.

They are the columns or central support beam that holds up the entire house, such is their mana.

They provide shelter for every one of the Testing and Vaccine centres throughout Aotearoa.

This is not to devalue the role of GPs, but it is to insist on the new role and value of our nursing staff up and down the country. They have been disrespected and must now in Covid, and post Covid, be honoured with greater salary and greater devolved authority to make major decisions on the front line in regard to scripting and the like.

The health system reflected through the delivery of Testing and Covid vaccinations shows the mana and authority of our nurses and our allied kaimahi.

We have a Whānau Ora clause in our contracts that says you can be deployed on any role or function required by your leadership to defend and or advance our community/hapori.

On that basis, hundreds of back office staff have been redeployed to the frontline to provide services such as: serving water and wrapped snacks for those waiting in the queues for over two hours. Quickly learning the IT systemic deployed to on-board people into the system and understand the NHI number, which as all Kiwis know, is now very important. Runners to run vaccinations from the Cold Chain, assisting in the cold store drawing up covid vaccinations from vials of Covid Vaccination serum, which can produce up to 6 vaccination needles. Once drawn, the vax last only 8 hours.

In lockdown, given all shops are closed – bar essential services – we ensure that lunches are made for all staff because, as they say, an army marches on its stomach.

Our Maori wardens oversee traffic control and direct the flow through on Testing and Vaccine sites.

We have multiple registration staff that continue to load large amounts of data so we can Vax and Test individual staff at no less than 2 minutes per person. More staff ensure that rubbish and waste are separated and disposed of.

So one day in our Whānau Ora world, you can be a manager or a team leader and the next day you are a cook, a cleaner, a runner or working on traffic management. The 12 hour day ends at 6pm.

We honour and respect all working on the front line bringing safety and security to their fellow Kiwis.

Our mantra is, if service is below you, leadership is beyond you.

This is encapsulated in a Māori saying.

Kei te amoranga ki mua, ke te hapai, kei muri.


John Tamihere is a former Labour Cabinet Minister and CEO of West Auckland Urban Māori Authority Whānau Waipareira. Waipareira manages Two Super Vaccination Centres – vaccinating more than 2000 people per day and a drive through Covid Testing station that nasal swabs around 750 whānau a day.



  1. Well this is jolly interesting,:

    …’The beauty of lockdowns – if there is anything to be chuffed about – is the removal of layers of bureaucrats’, compliance and paper shuffling’…

    But it is more than that, it was an interesting insight into what’s going on and I thank you John. But for edification here is an interesting breakdown of govt hierarchy. Its interesting to juxtapose that and what you have made clear:
    Covid-19 NZ: Who is who in the Government’s Covid-19 response team

  2. When weak incompetant leaders get ‘found out’ they try and blame others and limit critical journalism. Miss tilty frown head needs to move on to the UN pronto before NZ moves from third world to fourth. Save us John!!!

  3. John, having experienced both testing and vaccination at Whanau Ora sites I can now see why the whole experience from arrival to departure was so efficient, and yet relaxed and friendly. A huge thank-you to Whanau Ora (and all those others country wide) working tirelessly to achieve our goals.
    I am particularly drawn to the ‘if service is below you, leadership is beyond you’ mantra; so true.
    Nga mihi,

    • ..”having experienced both testing and vaccination at Whanau Ora sites”
      Likewise, and I having been singing their praises ever since but no one listens to old ladies.

      • Kia ora Shona, I’m listening. You obviously noticed and appreciated all of Whanau Ora’s efforts as well. I hope you have a good book to enjoy on this wet day!

  4. /agreed !
    If service is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.

    Sums up very nicely what I’ve noticed in our Public Service over 3 or 4 decades. There was always a bit of the Sir Humphrey but the 80s reforms introduced an authoritarian and egotistical streak in the ranks as public servants climb the ladder into more senior positions – which of course was necessary in order to maintain the cult of neoliberalism. It’s no wonder the worker bees get disillusioned and transfer around agencies until they become stifled by managerialist micromanagers intent on building their C.Vs.
    It’s why I always differentiate between the public service worker bees and their more senior overlords.

    I assume Jehan Cassinader is referring to the worker bees in his latest article.
    ( )
    If not, he’s obviously never worked in the ps pit

  5. This is not to devalue the role of GPs, but it is to insist on the new role and value of our nursing staff up and down the country.

    Very much so! Our nurses are those among us who are at the forefront of this war against the pandemic. They are putting their own lives at risk as they work on the frontlines to keep the rest of us safe.

    Nurses form the interface between Delta (and all other illnesses) and the wider population. They deserve our highest regard and respect, and whatever resources they need to continue the fight.

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