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Maori face COVID-19 vaccine inequalities

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted failings in New Zealand’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout as criticism grows of her outreach to Maori, and particularly young Maori.

Vaccination rates of elderly Maori are among New Zealand’s highest – around 92 per cent have had at least one jab, compared with 94 per cent of non-Maori.

However, the equity drops away for Kiwis under 35.

Just 48 per cent of young Maori are partially vaccinated, compared with 80 per cent of white New Zealanders.

It’s a shocking disparity and one Mike Smith, pandemic response lead for the ‘iwi chairs’ Maori group, says should have been picked up in the rollout design.

“The government started off by saying, ‘let’s vaccinate all the elderly people because they’re going to be vulnerable, because of their age’ and while that’s a very admirable sentiment that doesn’t suit us because of the demographic bubble,” he told AAP.

“In the Maori world, the big population bubble is in the youth.

“So while it was good to start with the elders within the Paheka community – we’re not knocking that – they should have at the same time, started with the young people in our communities, and then tried to capture them.”

The median age of Maori is 26 – meaning many in the community weren’t eligible to be vaccinated until last month.

Mr Smith said he believed it would take Maori to die to boost uptake.

“We’re anticipating that most people that are hesitant to get vaccinated right now, but there’ll be a surge as the bodies start piling up,” he said.

“As people start passing away, that’s going to cause those people that are sitting on the fence to think ‘wait a minute’. I might just go down the road quietly and get my vaccination.”

Ms Ardern’s government has allocated $NZ87 million ($A83 million) towards Maori-specific vaccination efforts, but was embarrassed this week when a remote community crowdfunded $NZ120,000 ($A115,000) for a mobile vaccination clinic.

Ms Ardern said some groups, including particular ethnicities had “not been reached into as much as we would have hoped by this stage.

“At every point in the vaccination campaign we’ve been trying to ensure that we have an equitable rollout,” she said.

“In some areas we do need to be doing better. Absolutely.”

Maori Health Minister Peeni Henare said regional health networks (DHBs) should wear some of the blame.

“Some of those challenges are around the funding distribution and the speed … I’ve also noticed a lack of strong leadership amongst the community and including the DHBs,” he said.

The government is undertaking a major review of New Zealand’s health system, scrapping DHBs in favour of a national system with an adjoining Maori health authority.

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