The Dirt: Digging deep with professor of epidemiology Rod Jackson –

Rod Jackson is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland, a father of two and grandfather of two. He lives and gardens with his wife Barbara, a retired librarian, in Ponsonby.

Gardening is my therapy. I grew up on a beef and sheep farm just out of Dargaville. I felt an affinity with the land, theres a closeness. Now Ive got a garden on a small section. Any time I can, I get out there.

Im an identical twin. My brother is a semi-retired lawyer. It was reasonably competitive between us. That was something my father instilled in us. There were five boys, including two sets of twins. He liked everyone to compete against each other. He was a bit of a slave driver. I learnt from a really early age that you worked really hard seven days a week.

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Rod Jackson is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland but loves to get out in his garden.

At the age of 15 I dont know the reason why, but I read this book called The Population Bomb. The basic premise was that unless we managed the worlds population there would be starvation and disease and wed be well and truly uhhh Thered be catastrophe. That was in the late 60s. It got me thinking about health for the first time, and about populations.

Barbara was my girlfriends best friend. That was around the beginning of university. A few years later we reconnected and ended up rapidly getting together. I think wed always had feelings for each other that had never been expressed.

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I was just going to be a normal doctor and I enjoyed clinical medicine, but I had a real interest in prevention. I remember I was working in a respiratory ward at Auckland Hospital. This lovely volunteer - Blue Cross ladies, we used to call them - went down to the hospital shop to buy cigarettes for a patient because he was too sick to get them himself. And I just thought this is bizarre, so I met with the hospital organisation committee and I said you should ban selling cigarettes at the hospital and they thought I was crazy. This is like 1976, 1977.

People knew I was a bit like that. So when there was a job for a junior doctor to go and work in public health someone said to me Hey Rod would you like to try this? This was now about 1980. So I ended up with this one-year job, working with an epidemiologist called Robert Beaglehole - this amazing guy, the key person behind New Zealands Smokefree Environments [Act]. And I just got sucked in and I never went back. I just loved it.

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I was just going to be a normal doctor and I enjoyed clinical medicine, but I had a real interest in prevention.

In March 2020, a colleague whod moved to Australia sent me a very simple model hed developed showing what the peak Covid infection rates would be by May, if there were no restrictions. I just remember seeing that chart and thinking oh my god, were dealing with a crisis.

No, I dont find it exciting. I find it terrifying. Im an academic epidemiologist, but Im also a public health doctor Every New Zealander who isnt vaccinated its a failure of me as their doctor.

The official number of deaths from Covid is 5 million but every epidemiologist knows thats a huge underestimate. Its probably 12 million up towards 15 to 20 million. In lower income countries many people who die dont even get a death certificate.

I get multiple emails every day from people who are angry about the things I say. They range from the anti-vaxxers to people who just dont like the fact that Im pushing mandates. Unless theyre death threats from whackos I try to answer them. And I have had people whove come around.

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Rod Jackson says he gets multiple emails every day from people who are angry about the things he says.

Mandates work. Yes they impact on peoples freedom, but this is war. This virus doesnt play by any rules. You talk about road maps? The virus doesnt drive. Its designed to do one thing, survive. It doesnt care if it kills you or not.

Im known as the butter cop. My work has mainly been in predicting the risk of heart disease. Eat less saturated fat, dont smoke, less salt, less sugar, and dont be sedentary. The five Ss.

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Jackson and his wife Barbara look after different parts of their garden.

I love wine. And I love ice cream. Ill have a couple of glasses of wine most nights and I have ice cream on the weekends. Favourite flavour? Probably... chocolate.

We have a bit of a demarcation in the garden. Barbara does all the flowers and I do all the vegetables. She tells me that I only let her have parts of the garden. But I love her garden out the front - this wild garden of shrubs and flowers. I just love watching things grow, building things. Im a bit of a dumpster diver. Around here people throw out amazingly good timber. Weve got a 400 sq metre section in Ponsonby. Weve been here since 1984. Its the only house weve ever had.

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Rod Jackson is a fan of square foot gardening, rather than planting in rows.

I had the most amazing mother. She had five kids under 5. She treated us all differently but she had no favourites. She died in 2019 and it kind of brings tears to my eyes. She left at the right time, she wouldnt have coped well with Covid, she was always out. She was a goer.

If youre not vaccinated youre going to get Delta once it gets loose, which is inevitable. This is my one goal. I have a one track mind. Get vaccinated.

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Rod Jackson has compost and a worm farm, as well as using sheep pellets, lime, blood and bone.

Rods gardening tips

- Use lots of fertiliser - Ive got a compost and a worm farm. I use sheep pellets, lime, blood and bone.

- Theres a book (and a site) called Square Foot Gardening. Rather than planting in rows, you garden in one foot square areas. I dont know why but I found it very liberating. It made it so much easier to experiment and companion plant.

- Make your own seed tape. You know those tiny little seeds like carrot seeds that are an absolute pain to plant? You just get toilet paper, fold it over once, put the seeds down along it, fold it on top of them again, moisten it and lay it out in your garden. Some people make a glue from flour and water but you don't need to, you just need to wet it slightly.

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