Low Māori vax rates not considered in alert level change

Official cabinet documents reveal the Government never considered low vaccination rates among Māori when it decided to drop alert level settings across the country in September.

That’s despite ministers being advised on several occasions that Māori would be disproportionately impacted by a widespread outbreak.

Now, more than 100 days in, Māori leaders say their people are continuing to pay the price.

“We make up the majority of hospitalisations and home isolation. There's no surprise in that because we're undercooked in our vaccinations,” Whānau Ora Chief Executive John Tamihere said

Cabinet met weekly to decide its Covid-19 approach, but it wasn’t until October 4 that Dr Ashley Bloomfield made the point that vaccinations should be taken into account when it came to changing levels.

By then, Auckland had already moved to Level 3.

Data specialist Rawiri Taonui said that was the biggest mistake the Government could have made.

“It’s Māori that are paying the price. We're more than 50 per cent of cases per day and we're about 48 per cent of all active cases. We are well over 40 per cent of total cases and those numbers are climbing rapidly and they all stem from that decision on September 22.”

He believed that could have been avoided.

“If they’d had stayed at Alert Level 4 for just three more weeks, we would have clearly beaten it.”

A Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) Covid-19 group spokesperson told 1News that prior to early October vaccination rates were not reaching levels that would have been a significant factor in deciding alert level settings.

“The alert level system was to give effect to our elimination strategy – the intent of which was to prevent all transmission of Covid-19 in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“Because the overall objective was to have no Covid-19 in the community, vaccination rates under the Alert Level system were not as relevant a standalone factor compared to other factors like case numbers, rates of transmission, and unlinked cases… vaccination rates were inherent in assessing the potential for undetected community transmission.

“Under the Covid-19 Protection Framework vaccination rates play a central role as part of the strategy of minimisation and protection.”

Cabinet documents show the Government never considered putting Auckland back into Level 4 after it had moved the city into Level 3.

That’s despite numerous calls from Māori leaders to do so.

The DPMC spokesperson said a range of factors were considered.

“The assessment was that taking into account all the relevant factors (health and non-health), Alert Level 3 controls were sufficient to manage the outbreak”.

It’s too late now and vaccination rates among Māori are still too low.

The New Zealand Māori Council’s George Ngatai has been working around the clock at a Wiri-based testing centre and Takanini-based vaccination centre to protect his community.

But he fears the worst is yet to come.

“Obviously with the changes of the traffic light there’s always going to be a disadvantage to Māori.”

He’s part of a team of Māori leaders taking the Crown to the Waitangi Tribunal next week where they hope their grievances will be head.