Health Minister Andrew Little has named and shamed Taranaki and Tairāwhiti district health boards for failing Māori on vaccination. His comments to Newsroom’s political editor Jo Moir came just hours after the Prime Minister publicly disagreed with the suggestion Māori should feel let down by the rollout.

In the last fortnight, Māori have made up 45.7 percent of the community cases in the Delta outbreak.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare described that number as “sobering’’ and said it reinforced the importance of getting vaccinated.

As the minister responsible for Māori health, he has spent the last few weeks travelling around the country meeting with DHBs and health providers to hear what the challenges and barriers are to getting the Māori vaccination rate up.

Just 44.6 percent of the eligible Māori population is fully vaccinated compared to a national rate of 65.9 percent.

Henare told Newsroom at the 1pm press conference on Tuesday that DHB leadership and the distribution of funds to community providers were two of the barriers to getting more Māori vaccinated in some regions.

He pointed to Taranaki as an example where Māori and iwi health providers were so “dissatisfied with the job the DHB was doing’’ that the Government had to step in and find a workaround to get the rollout up and running properly.

Tairāwhiti is another region with a woefully low vaccination rate for Māori and on Monday Jacinda Ardern blamed it on the relationship between the DHB and its Māori providers.

Little is responsible for a complete overhaul of the health system that will see all 20 DHBs scrapped, and a new Māori Health Authority set up. The legislation for these reforms will be introduced to the House on Wednesday.

Newsroom sat down with Little on Tuesday afternoon and asked if Māori had been failed by some DHBs’ vaccination rollout.

“When you look at Tairāwhiti, when you look at the slow uptake within Taranaki, it’s hard to avoid that conclusion,’’ Little said.

“I’m not pointing the finger at any particular individual people, but the reality is the poor vaccination performance reflects – it seems to me – a poor, or lack of, relationship between the DHB and relevant local Māori health organisations.’’

“In this day and age … the idea that you’d have a significant health organisation like the DHBs, not having a proactive deeply engaged relationship with their iwi, we simply should not tolerate that,’’ he told Newsroom.

“I’m not pointing the finger at any particular individual people, but the reality is the poor vaccination performance reflects – it seems to me – a poor, or lack of, relationship between the DHB and relevant local Māori health organisations.’’

– Health Minister Andrew Little 

Alongside his health portfolio, Little actively engages with iwi in his capacity as Minister for Treaty Negotiations. He is also from New Plymouth in Taranaki.

Asked how frustrating it is that the DHB in his hometown has failed to build relationships with local iwi and Māori providers, he described it as “incredulous’’.

“In this day and age, I find it difficult to believe.’’

Little said it wasn’t for the Government or the Director-General of Health to say Māori weren’t being failed.

“If iwi Māori are saying they’re not getting the support, we have to respect that. It’s not for us to say it’s fine and all good.

“Actually, that’s not what Māori are saying in some parts of the country, we have to respect that,’’ he told Newsroom.

Just hours earlier, Newsroom had put to Ardern that Māori in some regions were right to feel let down by the rollout. She said she disagreed.

Government approaching hardest stage of vaccination

On Tuesday, Henare told media there were some regions where the Māori vaccination rollout had been a huge success but in others there was plenty more work to be done.

He called on GPs, pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare workers to get onboard with the rollout, saying in some communities, health professionals weren’t engaging in the rollout – instead concentrating on business as usual.

“For many you’re the trusted person who will help them to make an informed decision,’’ Henare said.

Doctor Ashley Bloomfield told Newsroom he was “very happy with the role DHBs have played’’ in the vaccination rollout.

He acknowledged there has been some variability across DHBs, but he was pleased with the high vaccination rate among kaumatua and kuia.

“What we’re doing now is addressing where that performance is not as good as it should be and going in to support DHBs and local providers.’’

Asked if that was too little, too late, Bloomfield and Ardern both told Newsroom: “No”.

Ardern said it wasn’t “fair” to say the Government hasn’t focused on the issues with Māori vaccination, or that “DHBs haven’t done the work’’.

“At every point in the vaccination campaign we’ve been trying to ensure we’ve had an equitable rollout. Yes, in some areas we need to be doing better – absolutely.

“We want to identify where there are issues with driving demand, where there’s relationship issues … but those are conversations that didn’t just start in October,’’ she told Newsroom.

The vaccination rollout is now at the really hard part, Ardern said.

“We’re needing to go out street by street, town by town, and have direct conversations. That takes a lot of resource.’’

Kiri Allan, Cabinet Minister and the MP for the East Coast, told Newsroom she had been on the ground in Tairāwhiti helping to find ways to get the right resources to providers to get jabs in people’s arms.

She said it wasn’t “useful’’ to throw the DHB “under the bus’’ and the focus was on getting people vaccinated in every way possible.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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