The Director-General of Health has told the Waitangi Tribunal he advised the Government to prioritise Māori 50 years and over early in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, but Cabinet preferred to take a different approach.
The Government's failure to prioritise Māori at the beginning of the rollout is a key criticism of claimants participating at the tribunal’s inquiry.
Māori have a higher risk of suffering severe illness if infected with Covid-19.
The first priority group in the vaccine rollout included border and MIQ workers. The second priority group included frontline workers. The third priority group included anyone over the age of 65.
But Dr Ashley Bloomfield urged the Government to adjust the age range in group three to include Māori aged 50 years or over.
“We also looked to Australia and we were aware that they had taken approach, they started with a lower age range for aboriginal populations,” he said.
“So, we took that into account. Indeed, this was in very early discussions as part of our advice to Government. There was an option here to look at a lower age range for Māori and Pacific people because of the poorer health profile amongst those populations.”
Instead, he said the Government preferred to keep the age range at 65 years and over but adopt a more relaxed approach when it came to Māori health providers.
The Government allocated 40,000 courses of the vaccine to Māori health providers and told them if Māori aged 65 years or above turned up to the clinic with younger whānau members then they should vaccinate everyone.
“They came back and said we would like to address the equity aspiration in a different way, through a whānau-based approach.”
Dr Bloomfield told the Waitangi Tribunal Māori and other vulnerable groups had been at the centre of the Government’s Covid-19 response from the beginning.
He said the Ministry of Health worked closely with Māori to develop a strong communications plan and decided early on that Māori health providers and Māori-led initiatives would need to be adequately resourced to protect their communities.
He said achieving equity in the response to the pandemic has always been front of mind for everyone, even if at times there were differing views on how best to achieve it.