Coronavirus: Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare promises priority for Māori should COVID-19 vaccine stocks run low

The Associate Minister of Health is promising should coronavirus vaccine supplies start to run low, he will push for Māori to get them before they run out. 

There are fears New Zealanders' rush to get vaccinated against COVID-19 since the Delta outbreak began, combined with a bit of confusion over when the big batch of doses from Pfizer will arrive, could see stocks running low sometime in the next couple of months. 

The Government has been adamant that in the worst-case scenario, the rollout would revert back to the original plan of 50,000 doses a day - well below the recent daily average of over 80,000. 

To date, just 19 percent of eligible Māori have had a first dose, compared to 30 percent of Pakeha - despite efforts to prioritise them earlier in the rollout. Peeni Henare, who has responsibility for Māori health, said it hasn't been for want of trying. 

"From the start, from February… it was quite clear across all of my colleagues. If one looks towards all the Cabinet papers and the papers that decided upon our phased rollout, you will see a strong message for equity and the need to focus on Māori," he told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

"Kaumatua kuia, [Māori with] pre-existing health conditions and south Auckland were part of phase 2."

A study published online this week by researchers from the University of Waikato found "vaccination services in Aotearoa are not equitably distributed", with "priority populations including Māori, older people, and residents of areas with socioeconomic constraint" having to travel further, on average, to get jabs. 

In areas with better access, Māori - who are statistically more likely to suffer serious illness in the event of a COVID-19 infection - were more likely to have been vaccinated.

Henare said the Government was working with Pfizer, the only supplier we're using in the initial rollout, and "through our international partners" to get more doses. The initial order was for 10 million - enough to vaccinate everyone eligible with enough left over to start a booster dose campaign, if needed. 

He said he will "push" for priority access for Māori, should the deliveries lag behind demand. 

There are also concerns frontline border workers - many of whom are Māori and Pasifika - will soon need boosters, with new data suggesting the antibody response of the Pfizer vaccine (and others) wanes significantly six months after the first dose. It's now been about six months since the first border workers got their initial doses. 

Henare said he couldn't guarantee they'd be prioritised for booster shots ahead of others who haven't had their first or second yet. 

"We'll continue to look towards what the science and the evidence says about the booster shots."

The World Health Organization has recommended against booster shots for now, saying it would be better to put the world's limited supply of doses into the arms of those who haven't had any yet.

While the dominant Delta variant of the vaccine is able to spread amongst the vaccinated more easily than the original strain, the vaccine is still highly effective at stopping people getting seriously ill or dying. Rampant spread of the virus in the unvaccinated increases the chance of more variants emerging. 

"[COVID-19 Response Minister Chris] Hipkins and the Prime Minister are leading the securing of our vaccine supply," said Henare. "We continue to look at the research around the booster shot and the requirements for it… I've got to focus on my Māori community and we'll be making sure we observe this, to be able to secure it for an equitable outcome for Māori." 

Watch Newshub Nation 9:30am Saturday/10am Sunday on TV3, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Newshub Nation is supported by NZ On Air.