The gap between Covid-19 vaccination rates for Māori and the general population in Whanganui, Ruapehu and Rangitīkei is expected to narrow as the Whanganui District Health Board’s (DHB) pro-equity strategy gathers pace.
The DHB and Māori health provider Te Oranganui say Māori vaccination rates will climb as the localised vaccine rollout ramps up through August and the rest of the year.
Data to mid-July showed that most DHBs are vaccinating Māori at about half the rate of the general population or less. In Whanganui, Ruapehu and Rangitīkei, where well over 27,500 doses have been delivered, Māori were being fully vaccinated at less than half the rate of the general Whanganui population, the data showed.
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Local Democracy Reporting the national rollout strategy is not working for Māori. She said the low rates were a result of the government’s rejection of Māori advice and repeated requests for a Māori vaccination strategy.
“The Ministry of Health has been apathetic in applying and engaging and listening to Māori to get a Māori Covid strategy,” Ngarewa-Packer said.
“What we have not seen within the testing regime, within the vaccine uptake and within the communications of this kaupapa is the Māori strategy. We have not seen a tangata whenua-driven strategy … they (the Ministry of Health) will not take on that advice.
“There’s an arrogance. They’re still trying to run a one-stop shop Covid response – it’s not working.”
But Whanganui DHB senior responsible officer Louise Allsopp, who leads the DHB’s vaccine team, said the approach in Whanganui, Ruapehu and Rangitīkei had differed from the national rollout guidelines.
“The Whanganui Covid-19 vaccine rollout has focussed on pro-equity from the start, with an emphasis on Māori and Pasifika populations which we know to be more vulnerable to the virus,” Allsopp said.
The government’s sequencing framework gives DHBs some flexibility to respond to the needs of their populations. In the Whanganui DHB area, Māori and Pasifika aged 50 years and over have been offered vaccinations since May, and whole households have been included as part of the drive to protect the most vulnerable.
Allsopp said it should be noted that many Māori are in younger age groups not yet eligible for the vaccine. A total of 20.2 per cent of the Whanganui rohe population is under 15 years of age, and 43 per cent of these are Māori, she said.
“We would always like to see greater rates of vaccine uptake but as the rollout ramps up significantly through August and onwards, we are confident of protecting the vast majority of the Whanganui rohe.”
Allsopp said iwi health providers were an integral part of the vaccine rollout locally.
“This has helped us access some difficult-to-reach populations with a focus on rural communities and small Māori communities along the Whanganui River Road.”
She said the DHB had been supported by senior figures in these communities to help overcome vaccine hesitancy and more than 25 education sessions led by the NZ Immunisation Advisory Centre have been held throughout the rohe, including on marae, with many whānau saying that after listening to the information they felt more inclined to accept the vaccine.
Whole-of-community vaccine clinics are being held in some communities, including Kaiwhaiki, Rātana and Matahiwi, and next week a clinic at the Cook Islands Community Hall in Gonville will target the Pasifika community.
Clinics have also been held at workplaces with high Māori and Pasifika workforces, such as Affco Imlay, Pacific Helmets and BHJ New Zealand (which included workers and their whānau).
Information sessions were completed at those workplaces before vaccination teams went in to offer the vaccine. Allsopp said providing education at workplaces removed barriers such as having to attend evening or day sessions during work or family time.
Education sessions have been a collaborative effort involving the DHB, the Whanganui Regional Health Network, Te Oranganui, local iwi, NGOs, and other community groups.
Work was also being done in conjunction with Ngāti Apa to arrange public sessions in Bulls, Scotts Ferry, Turakina and Koitiata.
Te Oranganui chief executive Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata said the education sessions were providing opportunities for whānau to get information so they were able to make an informed decision.
“This mahi is still ongoing with a number of whānau hui being held across our rohe. Our whānau have indicated that they just need a bit more time but we are confident we will see an increase in the uptake of the vaccine over the coming months,” Walsh-Tapiata said.
To book a free vaccine, call Te Oranganui on 0800 202 004. Whānau do not have to be Te Oranganui clients to make an appointment.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers’ Association and NZ On Air.