Gangs' Tough Message: Get the Shots

Leaders make video to help New Zealand campaign for hard-to-reach communities
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2021 6:45 PM CDT
Gangs' Tough Message: Get the Shots
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces last month in Wellington a target of fully vaccinating 90% of eligible people to end the nation's coronavirus lockdowns.   (Robert Kitchin/Pool Photo via AP)

A government minister was talking with leaders of New Zealand's gangs about how to persuade reluctant people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The result is a four-minute video in which members of the Head Hunters, Black Power, King Cobras, and Mongrel Mob gangs encourage everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccines, the Guardian reports. Denis O'Reilly says in the video that he's "taken a few shots" as a member of Black Power. Now, he says, "I've taken my two shots against COVID, and I'm asking you to do the same."

Members of at least three gangs have contracted the coronavirus, which prompted Cabinet discussions about how to reach gang members to encourage them to have the shots. To engage them, some leaders were given status as essential workers. The Cabinet discussions led the minister for Maori development to talk with gang leaders. "This is not all about gangs, this is all about our whanau (family)," Harry Tam of the Mongrel Mob says in the video. "One thing we need to be clear about is that this is not about the government telling us, it is about the experts telling the government, that is getting us to vaccinate to protect ourselves."

A New Zealand criminologist likes the idea. "This is an example of what needs to happen if we're going to reach hard-to-reach communities—by using people who are respected in those communities," Jarrod Gilbert said, per the New Zealand Herald. "We need links into these communities for the welfare of everybody." The gangs provided video to the minister, who had his son edit it. "Not one cent of taxpayer money went into this," said the minister, Willie Jackson. Maori and Pacific New Zealanders, who together make up about 27% of the total population, account for about 70% of the nation's 3,634 COVID-19 cases. (More coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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