Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has no doubt Māori won’t hit a 90 percent vaccination target this year. He told Newsroom political editor Jo Moir vaccine supply was partly to blame.

Vaccination rates for kuia and kaumātua have been a shining light in an otherwise slow Māori rollout.

For the 65+ age group, 87.6 percent of Māori are fully vaccinated, only slightly behind the general rate of 90.5 percent.

For months the Prime Minister and her senior colleagues have pushed back on suggestions Māori weren’t prioritised in the rollout, saying Māori health providers were told to vaccinate whānau when kuia and kaumātua turned up for their jab.

As recently as Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern said Māori providers were told to take a whānau-based approach from the beginning.

But providers on the ground including Waipareira Trust in Auckland and Tui Ora in Taranaki say the supply wasn’t there to do that, and vaccinating entire whānau only became possible in the middle of this year when supply ramped up.

By that point Māori providers had missed months of opportunity to vaccinate rangatahi alongside older whānau members.

Newsroom put this to Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson, who conceded, “there wasn’t supply for everyone”.

“There was supply, but only for some whānau.”

Jackson says he and his Māori colleagues in the Labour caucus have been upfront that the rollout for Māori “hasn’t been perfect’’.

“Ask any Māori provider – I don’t think there would be one who would say we could hit 90 percent by the end of the year. Could we get there next year sometime? Quite possibly.’’ – Willie Jackson

And he’s pleased with a High Court ruling on Monday night ordering the Ministry of Health to reconsider its decision not to provide individual-level data to the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency – the case was pursued by the agency’s chief executive John Tamihere.

“I always believed John should have got that information and we’ve done everything we can to get Whānau Ora that information.’’

But he pushes back on the idea that things would have been “hugely different” now if that information had been provided.

Those who remain unvaccinated are in the most difficult to reach places and they’re the most difficult to convince, Jackson told Newsroom.

“There’s still a level of resentment and hatred towards government, whether it’s National or Labour in power, that exists.

“There’s no better example of that than in places like Murupara and in Northland, where people are carrying burdens, things like land loss, and what happened to our people over generations, you have to understand the impact that has.’’

Jackson said Māori won’t be there alongside everyone else when DHBs hit 90 percent vaccination rates.

“There’s no doubt Māori won’t be there, but the work continues.’

“Ask any Māori provider – I don’t think there would be one who would say we could hit 90 percent by the end of the year. Could we get there next year sometime? Quite possibly.’’

Newsroom did speak to one optimistic Māori provider.

Tui Ora chief executive Hayden Wano is working alongside his colleagues and the district health board to achieve a goal of 95 percent of Māori being vaccinated by the end of the year.

He says the High Court ruling will help significantly, if the data is released.

“It’s going to require a much more targeted approach and the more accurate information we have about which communities we need to start going to, then that’s helpful.’’

To achieve it, Wano says Taranaki needs to get through 1500 jabs a week every week between now and the end of the year.

“We’ve reached 1500 in a week before … I’m hopeful.’’

That sort of optimism isn’t shared by Waipareira Trust chair, John Tamihere, who says on a good day some of the country’s better-performing DHBs will be lucky to hit 90 percent of Māori vaccinated by March next year.

“I don’t know what pot Hayden has been smoking, but it must be good stuff in Taranaki,’’ he told Newsroom.

While the Government has set a 90 percent vaccination target for each DHB, Cabinet opted not to set one for Māori.

But Newsroom has confirmed several Ministers did push for Māori to have their own 90 percent target.

High Court win comes too late for Māori

Tamihere is pleased to have won the High Court ruling but says it’s a “false victory” given it’s come so close to Christmas.

A business case for how to roll out the vaccination programme to Māori was put forward to the Ministry of Health in February by the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, but it was declined.

“We were saying then that we were going to have to get Māori on board by way of invitation, not a lottery of appointments.

“Even with the supply issue, we could have smoothed invitation subject to supply delivery – that would have been a totally different proposition to how the rollout ended up happening,’’ he said.

The rollout was “pitched to well-earning, middle class New Zealanders’’, Tamihere says.

And it was rolled out in a completely pre-meditated way, which the Government knew would fail Māori.

If the rollout plan had been handed over back in February, Tamihere says he has no doubt Māori vaccination would be hitting 80 percent by now.

The rollout is now at a point where providers are hunting – “we’re farming the tail’’.

“If we’d got to them earlier, they wouldn’t have had all this misinformation fill the gap,’’ he said.

Finding the unvaccinated in Northland

National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti has ditched Parliament for South Hokianga where he’s working at mobile vaccination clinics this week.

The area has the lowest vaccination rate in Northland and is one of many communities he’s visited in his capacity as a qualified GP in recent weeks to help vaccinate.

Reti points to simple things like the price of petrol being a barrier for the unvaccinated.

It’s why mobile vaccination clinics have been so desperately sought-after by Māori health providers.

Reti puts people into four vaccination categories – the early adopters who have already been found; the ambivalent, which have been mostly reached; the hesitant; and lastly, the will not get vaccinated.

“We’re in groups three and four – the really hard stuff.’’

He says the High Court ruling would have helped months ago and “there are some things central government needs to own’’.

Reti can’t work out why the Ministry of Health was put in charge of the Covid vaccine rollout, through the 20 District Health Boards.

“No other vaccine programme does that. The missing point has always been primary care – our GPs.’

“That’s who does the vaccinating from cradle to grave already, yet several weeks into the latest outbreak only one-quarter of our GPs are accredited.’’

Reti says it’s been a huge barrier.

Newsroom asked Jackson why primary care providers weren’t utilised earlier on, and while he said that was a question better asked of those ministers making the health decisions, he said it did seem like it would have been “a logical step’’.

“It’s been a source of frustration, I know that,’’ he said.

The arguments against vaccination Reti has encountered in the North cover everything from misinformation to lack of access, to distrust in the system.

“There’s this thing called vaccine utu – this sense that people’s loss in life is due to government interventions. They’re hearing the Government say we want your help to get vaccinated, and they’re saying ‘Why would we help you?’.’’

Some of the hesitant people Reti is encountering are requiring half-hour long conversations, sometimes on multiple occasions.

It’s resource-intensive work and Reti wants to see GP clinics and practice nurses resourced and incentivised to go out and do the job.

“I’d like to see a strategy and plan where clinics get accredited within 24-48 hours and are given incentives to go out and reach that difficult 10 percent of the population.’’

Jackson says despite all the “doom and gloom’’, Māori vaccination rates are improving but he accepts it’s now getting into the “tough area’’.

He points to the anti-vaccination crowds and some of their leaders, some of whom he says are respected leaders in the Māori community.

“These are significant people in some cases who are not crazy, they’re leaders. You can’t write them off as maniacs, which is the tendency. If you do, it’s at your own peril.

“So, we’re trying to work out how to deal with these sorts of people. When one talks, they’ve got the influence on another 100 people, and we have to work our way through that,’’ Jackson says.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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