1 Oct 2021

Henare says he's having 'uncomfortable conversations' about Māori vaccination rates

10:01 pm on 1 October 2021

Whānau Ora minister Peeni Henare says the state of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout means we are "on the precipice of a future or a significant failure."

Peeni Henare (second from right) met with iwi health providers from across Te Tai Tokerau in WhangāreI.

Peeni Henare (second from right) met with iwi health providers from across Te Tai Tokerau in WhangāreI. Photo: Samantha Olley

Henare (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) met with iwi health providers from across Te Tai Tokerau in Whangārei to talk mate korona, and lagging Māori vaccination rates.

Less than 50 percent of eligible Māori have received their first vaccination in Northland - among the worst rates in the country.

The minister acknowledged the heavy workload for iwi providers, assuring them he had their backs.

He said he was having "uncomfortable conversations ... to confront our DHBs to say 'you said you would do this and I'm here to make sure it's happened'."

"If it hasn't there will be repercussions."

Hui attendees had wero to put to Minita Henare too.

They said funding had been piecemeal.

Whakawhiti Ora Pai general manager Errol Murray (Te Aupouri, Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, Ngāi Takoto) said his organisation had received money, but it was only to pay for extra staff, not the infrastructure they need.

"At the moment we have a workforce shortage up here in the north and that sort of capacity might not be available.

"We don't need FTEs some of us need campervans so that we can be more mobile without having to lease at these high prices."

Kia Ora Ngāti Wai chief executive Lynette Stewart said a large part of the problem was that Māori health providers were underfunded going into the pandemic, and they needed to be trusted with bigger overarching funding for the rollout.

"A lot of the money we've got now, we're so busy accounting for it, it's hard to just let loose and go out," she told the hui.

"I bought two transit vans a couple of years ago, hallelujah. Because it took me five years to save up for those. So we were right on the cusp. But a lot of my colleagues here today haven't got those transit vans."

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Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Hauora Hokianga chief executive Margareth Broodkoorn (Ngāpuhi) said taking jabs to the most isolated communities was working.

But not everyone has welcomed vaccinators with open arms.

"We've had our little protestors across the way and they had their say, they had their little placards and the little haka that they did."

Complicating matters further, she told Minister Henare some staff were vaccine hesitant too.

"Support us as health providers to go down that path of saying 'actually all of our kaimahi need to be vaccinated'. And as an organisation, we currently are sitting at 60 per cent of our staff that are vaccinated. We can't say 'thou shalt' because we are not allowed to, because we'd have our unions on our case."

Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi chief executive Te Ropu Poa (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Te Rino, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahu) had one solution for that, with hints of humour.

"If kaimahi aren't vaccinated they get tested every week on a Thursday ... and then put your trainees there cause they'll get sick of getting poked in the nose and get vaccinated."

Minister Henare assured the hui the whakaaro would be relayed to Wellington by his team.

"I am sick and tired of 'what a great breakfast it was' and then nothing followed up on afterwards."

He also met with the Northland DHB staff, GPs, pharmacists and Whangārei Boys' High School staff today.