New Zealand / Covid 19

'Team of 5 million' deserve New Zealander of the Year award - Siouxsie Wiles

09:38 am on 1 April 2021

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles was presented won the Kiwibank award for New Zealander of the Year by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a ceremony on Wednesday night.

Siouxsie Wiles. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Wiles has become the public face of the Covid-19 pandemic and was all over the airwaves, helping people understand what was happening and the science behind it.

She told Morning Report it was a privilege to be acknowledged.

"This is the year that the 'team of five million' should have won it.

"Yes, I'm one of the public faces of the pandemic but we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for everybody, especially our essential workers, all the contact tracers.

"It's a weird thing being acknowledged in this way when it's an effort that took many people and it continues to take many people."

She said receiving the award was an overwhelming experience when the prime minister put the cloak on her.

"I feel privileged in my position to use my skill to help people understand the virus, understand why we've had to do the extraordinary things."

Wiles said the challenge wasn't over yet, as the vaccine programme is around the corner.

"It's a privilege to be able to play my role" - Dr Siouxsie Wiles

She worked in collaboration with New Zealand illustrator Toby Morris to create Covid-19 cartoons that went on to be used worldwide.

"I'm so proud of us."

But it has not always been a smooth ride, she said, especially on the internet.

"The interesting and horrible parts of the pandemic is people questioning my expertise all the time. That is a very gendered thing. It's quite sad.

"Women are constantly undervalued and undermined, and people are always people questioning our credentials - it's exhausting to keep justifying yourself."

The other winners included mental health advocate Jazz Thornton who won young person of the year and medical academic Dr Doug Wilson - senior of the year.

Ranjna Patel has taken the award for innovator of the year for her work on domestic violence.