Govt defends equity of Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Source: 1News

The Government says it will be working to make sure any Kiwi who wants a vaccine can get one, but critics says "come one, come all" approach puts Māori and Pasifika communities at risk. 

The company believes the protection would be 11 times stronger for those aged 65 to 85.

Ayesha Verrall, the associate minister of health, who commissioned the Skegg report, told Q+A: "The elimination strategy is probably the most pro-equity strategy from the perspective of Maori, Pasifika and the elderly and the ill that I can think of in health.

"So we are protecting everyone while they have the opportunity to get vaccinated. And absolutely the burden on us is to give everyone a fair opportunity to be vaccinated."

So far, Māori are only nine per cent of those who’ve had two doses of the vaccine, while Pasifika are six per cent.

Verrall said there have to be multiple opportunities for people to get the vaccine, but she is not worried about demand from other New Zealanders further marginalising vulnerable communities.

"When you look at around the world, there is a peak period of demand. It's often about eight weeks where ... then at the end of that period, the name of the game changes to identifying people who are, by definition, harder to reach.

"So we know that work is ahead of us as well. We have until recently been focused on the scale-up, and then we’ll need to pivot to much more micro-targeting of people who are harder to reach."

Dr Sue Crengle, a GP and Māori public health academic, has a problem with that approach.

"I acknowledge that we've got the vaccine; we're under time pressure to try and get our vaccination coverage high. But we really need to be thinking about how we can prevent those inequities appearing.

"And I think that, you know, Ayesha's comment about the eight weeks of maximum demand and then looking at who are the groups who haven't been well served in that first eight weeks is pretty uncomfortable for me, because if we get Covid before the end of the year and we have not been able to make sure that the groups that are more vulnerable to Covid and to adverse Covid outcomes have been vaccinated, then we're really in trouble."

She told Jack Tame the key is having information, and the vaccines themselves, being delivered appropriately.

"We know that in the Māori community, where there have been people, trusted people, going out and having conversations at marae or other community venues, people's questions are answered, and that relieves a lot of their 'hesitancy' to have the vaccine ...

"And so I think if we can get information out to people, then many Māori will consider having the vaccine."

Crengle wants to see more resources going into to areas that are making headway, such as Māori health providers.

"I think we could really expand the groups that are providing those — so have better funding, have more of those services available.

"I think we should also be making more use of Covid-19 vaccine assistants, who are a kind of new vaccine workforce, who work under the supervision of registered nurses to deliver Covid vaccines. And I think it would be great to see an expansion of that workforce."

Auckland City Councillor Efeso Collins echoed that concern. He pointed to the recent mass vaccination event held in Manukau, home to a large Māori and Pasifika population, yet less than one fifth of the 15,000 people who were vaccinated were Māori or Pasifika.

"Equity hasn’t been at the centre of our thinking. I think this has been a failure by the DHBs and the Ministry of Health to make equity the centre ... We are planning these events without local knowledge. The government has to trust local community organisations, because we're the best people to lead it out.

"Look ... less than a fifth of people were Māori and Pacific that were vaccinated at that event in an area that is predominantly Māori and Pacific. So I'm completely astounded that they haven't connected with the local expertise to drive this vaccination rollout."

He said a one-size fits all approach will not deliver the kind of vaccine coverage we need.

"I think the big vaccination events are really useful, and that's good for the general population because we want everyone to be vaccinated, but we need a tailored approach. And that's only going to happen when you're doing things with us, not for us."