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New Zealand Launches New Device to Support People with Special Needs

The COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy in New Zealand relies on expertise throughout the government. It lays out the measures that the government must do for the country to have the infrastructure, regulations, and connections necessary for COVID-19 vaccines to be available.

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni announced the launch of a new device to assist disabled persons to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the country approaches the 90% immunisation milestone. “Getting a vaccination is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your community – and we want all New Zealanders to have the right support to get the job done.”

The ‘Manaakitanga Journey’ is a visually appealing online tool that summarises crucial information from the Unite Against COVID-19 website, such as how to schedule New Zealand Sign Language interpreters at clinics and how to get to and from your vaccine appointment. The government has collaborated with the disability sector and community, as well as the Office for Disability Issues, the Ministry of Health, and the District Health Board (DHB), to establish services and information to ensure disabled individuals are aware of their vaccine eligibility.

The vaccination initiative is aimed to be inclusive and accessible to all New Zealanders, ensuring that everyone can get vaccinated. DHBs and local providers are dedicated to ensuring that disabled persons get access to the vaccine in a way that fits their needs in their community.

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni said she believes the ‘Manaakitanga Journey’ captures the essence and importance of removing barriers to vaccination for disabled people. “Deciding whether to be vaccinated, finding the most appropriate site and place to be vaccinated at, and who to contact if you need transport, are all key parts of the journey that can often affect disabled people’s experiences. This makes that process easier.”

The government is starting by launching a disability-specific section of the Unite Against COVID-19 website, which will be updated weekly with accessible locations and centres for disabled individuals to get vaccinated across the nation.

The Unite Against COVID-19 website will also include consolidated information for disabled individuals and those with underlying health issues, such as supported decision-making, a list of accessible vaccination centres near them, transportation arrangements, and information in alternative formats.

OpenGov Asia reported on a pilot experiment of a virtual token, a collaboration between researchers at the University of Auckland and universities in Australia, the Netherlands, and the United States. The virtual token app spreads harmless tokens among smartphone users using Android phones and Bluetooth to better understand the relationship between physical mobility and epidemic spread.

The virtual token was created to assist public health officials in controlling epidemics such as Covid-19 by providing real-time data on people’s general level of contact. Such real-time data could, for example, assist officials in understanding the efficacy of various regulatory measures. When participants run the virtual token app, it sends and receives Bluetooth signals, or tokens, that simulates virus spread. The app then sends a total number of virtual infections to a server. The app’s collected data is aggregated and anonymised.

Unlike contact-tracing apps, the virtual token does not record any information about the identity of people who encounter a participant; instead, it simply records whether their devices have received one or more virtual tokens (if they are also running the app). But, more importantly, it transmits this data in real-time to a central database. This gives it a significant advantage over contact tracing apps in terms of understanding how an epidemic spread in a population. Contact tracing apps report more detailed information on the identities of contacts but much later if the owner of a device tests positive.

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