9 Aug 2021

Māori and Pacific health groups worried by low vaccination rates

7:41 pm on 9 August 2021

Months into the vaccine rollout, the number of Māori and Pacific people vaccinated against Covid-19 remains well down on the rest of the population.

No caption.

DHBs are working specifically with iwi, marae and church groups to boost numbers in Māori and Pacific communities. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Only 8.9 percent of Māori and 13 percent of Pasifika are fully vaccinated, according to data released on Monday by the Ministry of Health.

Rawiri Jansen, a co-director of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the National Māori Pandemic Group, said the gap with the rest of the population doesn't appear to be closing.

"Clearly the vaccination programme is not delivering for Māori communities now," he said.

"If we're worried about an outbreak of [the delta variant] into a situation where the Māori community is the least vaccinated community in the country, that's very disturbing."

As the rollout gathers pace, Māori and Pacific health groups are increasingly worried efforts to target the most vulnerable populations are falling flat.

At a mass vaccination event in Manukau a week ago, just under a fifth of the 15,000 people who went were Māori or Pacific.

The Northern Regional Health Coordiantion Centre said that wasn't a surprise, and the mass clinic was still a resounding success because it was not designed to target specific groups.

Clinical director Anthony Jordan conceded the stubborn gap between Māori, Pacific and the rest was being seen in the Auckland area too.

But he said the DHBs were working specifically with iwi, marae and church groups to boost numbers in these communities.

"Even by engaging with those providers we really needed to reach out into those communities more," Dr Jordan said.

"So instead of sitting in our centres we've really had to go into the community, re-engage with their general practices and community organisations that they have trust in."

Teuila Percival, a clinician in South Auckland who sits on the board of the Pasifika Medical Association, said that's important.

But it's also something they have been saying for over a year.

"It's one of the issues we see, I think, when you have a big public health response to something. If you're not careful in your targetting you will make gaps worse," Dr Percival said.

"Perhaps we need to focus a little more on making it really easy, you know, I think for Pacific we need multiple layers."

Dr Jordan said that was happening. In Auckland there were now five Māori and two Pacific providers working within communities, and outreach was stepping up.

He said he was dedicated to closing the gap.

"You know it's hard to say what it could have been, all we need to focus on is what it needs to be and I'm really, really focussed," he said.

"My priority is to direct the NRHCC into these communities through their existing providers and we're getting a lot of feedback from those communities about how we can do that better."

Rawiri Jansen said if the health system was better connected with Māori and Pacific providers from the start, it possibly wouldn't have taken as long to close the gap.

"Why is it so slow, because it clearly doesn't need to be," he asked.

"There's been good advice given at every step but not followed and so part of the correction has to be to listen to Māori expertise and to resource that into becoming really effective programmes."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs