‘Taking over a new practice mid-lockdown both a crisis and opportunity’

Mid-lockdown late last year, a young multi-lingual doctor working in rural south Auckland snapped up the chance to take over an east Auckland practice from two retiring GPs.

Luke Wee, with his wife and one-year-old baby in tow, started running Meadowbank Medical Centre in November.

“It did seem a bit crazy at the time. A lot of people were trying to get out of working in the middle of the pandemic. A lot of people were burnt out and facing a lot of different stresses for their personal health.

“I saw it as both a crisis and an opportunity.”

Almost immediately, the practice opened up to walk-ins for testing, extending the invitation to non-enrolled patients, and in mid-January this year, started vaccinating.

More recently, the centre has also joined a small number of sites across the city in offering the Novavax vaccine.

“We have found it rewarding to offer an alternative. I think there’s a sense of relief that there’s an alternative for those who are not keen on the Pfizer vaccine and there’s also a degree of openness to the vaccine that we haven’t seen previously.

“People who had been waiting, people who had been previously sceptical, are now more open to the vaccine.”

Mr Wee speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, French and Te reo Māori with varying fluency. Some of his staff are also bilingual. Serving his multicultural community is especially important to him.

“I’m Asian by origin but it doesn’t limit me to my own community. I think as modern day clinicians, we really have to think hard about what’s our role in society. And I think one of our roles is a connector of people.

“And we are quite privileged to cut across all sectors of society. The ability to communicate and speak the language of the people we are trying to serve makes our work more rewarding.”

Mr Wee says a recent example of this springs to mind.

“An Algerian family came in who only spoke Arabic and French, and were all unwell with COVID-19.

“They couldn’t find any health services that were able to communicate well with them.

“I was privileged to be able to speak to them and help.”

Lately, Mr Wee says, their focus has been on delivering booster doses and flu vaccinations.

“We have been really busy. And also busy catching up with a backlog of people needing help, a lot of patients who have put off their health checks because of COVID-19.

“We are also actively recruiting for new clinicians, trying to train new doctors, getting medical students in next month, as well as looking at overseas recruitment.”

Flu vaccines are free for the following people: those aged 65 and over, Māori and Pacific aged 55 and over, pregnant people, those with underlying health issues, including asthma, diabetes and heart conditions, and children aged under 4 with pre-existing illnesses. You can get your free flu vaccination from your GP or healthcare provider, with many pharmacies also offering it to people aged 13 and over. 

Our Vaccine Uptake articles are supported by Supported by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Ethnic Communities.