COVID-19: Experts warn Government one-size-fits-all response will miss the most vulnerable Kiwis

Experts are warning the Government a one-size-fits-all approach to New Zealand's COVID-19 messaging and response isn't going to work.

The country recorded 41 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the August 2021 outbreak to 148.

More than half of cases are Pasifika people (70 percent - 104 cases), while 19 percent identify as European or Other (28 cases), 9 percent are of Asian ethnicity (13 cases), 1 percent are Māori (one case) and 1 percent are of an unknown ethnicity (two cases).

Dr Debbie Ryan, the principal of Pacific Perspectives, says a one-size-fits-all response isn't going to work to effectively get messages to the most vulnerable Kiwis.

Dr Ryan said many Kiwis speak English as a second language and the communication from the Government and health authorities on the COVID-19 outbreak should reflect that.

"We shouldn't just rely on having one press statement or one brochure."

She told Newshub the Government's COVID-19 messaging should have targeted all New Zealanders from the beginning of the pandemic. 

"We tend to blame the people who haven't been reached but actually when you look back on it we could have done it correctly the first time."

Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, a Manukau GP and Chair of the Pasifika GP network and the Pacific Chapter of the Royal NZ College of GPs, agreed the approach of health authorities during the vaccine rollout had been lacking.

However he said there have been some recent improvements including the implementation of the 0800 Pacific phone line which allows families to make group bookings in their languages for their bubbles and an announcement of ethnic community vaccination clinics.

"We all know Pacific peoples carry a higher burden of disease and at - on average - a lower age.  This is why if we as a country were serious about 'equity', then the push for vaccination for Pacific peoples right at the start (using all the tools available to us as described above) would have been done - but this approach unfortunately wasn't used.

"Now in addition to carrying the burden of COVID cases in this most recent outbreak, the Pacific community are bearing the brunt of targeted racist vitriol from a few racist small-minded key-board warriors on social media."

Dr Talemaitoga said the Ministry of Health and DHBs can work with communities with high needs to tackle deadly diseases, as seen by the meningococcal vaccination campaign nearly 20 years ago.

"The combination of the health authorities, health organisations and trusted Pacific health professionals who were known within their communities gave the push needed to get vaccination rates to a high level," he said.

He also noted that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Pacific people had high testing rates.

"Pacific people showed how they can heed the call to help protect their communities by consistently getting the highest COVID swab testing rates per head of population for the country."