4 Sep 2020

Covid-19: Herd immunity approach would lead to 'thousands of avoidable deaths'

4:10 pm on 4 September 2020

A researcher modelling Covid-19 death rates says 1300 Māori and Pasifika would die in the Counties Manukau district alone if community transmission was allowed to run rampant, reinforcing the importance of an elimination approach to the virus.

Ōtara Covid-19 Testing Station 13 August

Photo: RNZ

A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, 'Estimated inequities in Covid-19 infection fatality rates by ethnicity for Aotearoa New Zealand', which is a continuation of study findings first published in April, estimated the rate with which Māori would die was double that of non-Māori.

Report co-author Andrew Sporle said they also found Māori and Pacific were more likely to be hospitalised for the virus due to underlying health conditions.

In addition, Māori and Pacific were more at risk of getting the virus because a quarter of Māori and 45 percent of Pacific people live in crowded houses.

"We know from work that's looking at the Chinese epidemic that once things get into the community then about 85 percent of the transmission occurs at the household level," Sporle said.

"So this paints a picture of the inequality in sickness and death that would result if we had sustained community transmission, such that some of the pundits are actually advocating for, will have Māori and Pacific families much worse affected [and] will have higher death rates."

He said new regional modelling by ethnic group showed just how bad it could get in the Counties Manukau area alone, with about 600 Māori and 950 Pacific people expected to die.

Another 5000 Māori and 7500 Pasifika would require hospital level care and 1000 Māori would need intensive care.

"I mean the impact of this would be absolutely devastating."

He said that anyone arguing for a herd immunity approach would have "thousands of avoidable deaths on their hands."

Sporle said the study confirmed the importance of an elimination approach to the virus in Aotearoa and the need to focus on high-risk communities.

In order to get ahead of any community outbreak, Sporle said the Ministry of Health needed to making high quality regional data available and disseminate that to local leaders.

"That would vary from community to community - so up in the East Coast, a lot of that work is being done at a hapū level, [and] up north, it's an iwi consortium, so we need something that is flexible and responds to the strengths of those local communities."

Report co-author Michael Plank said the findings reinforced the "devastating impact that covid-19 would have on these communities if it ever did get out of control in New Zealand."

"And so this really points to the need for measures that work with affected communities to protect that risk groups and regions from those devastating impacts."

Self-reported racism leads to poorer healthcare - review

Also published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, was a systematic review by the University of Otago which found indigenous and minority ethnic groups were more likely to experience racism, which was linked to negative impacts on health.

Report author Natalie Talamaivao said there was a "strong and consistent relationship" between experiences of racism, and poorer health outcomes across a range of health indicators.

"What is needed now is research into, and action on, the next steps - translating research into interventions and policy initatives that address and reduce racism and its impacts on health."

Director of Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research at Auckland University of Technology Denise Wilson said the study showed how "racism makes you sick."

She said the Ministry of Health needed to closely and vigilantly monitor ethnicity data for Covid-19 because there was the potential for a "perfect storm" for Māori and Pacific people if community transmission got worse, due to the underlying health problems such as asthma, and heart disease that put them more at risk, but also the high unmet health needs of this group.

Of all the Covid-19 tests that had been completed since January up until 3 September, 16 percent of them were for Māori.

Nine percent of all the people in Aotearoa who had had Covid-19 were Māori.

Wilson said this reflected the hard work of iwi, Māori and hapū to monitor those coming in and out of their region.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs