Delta outbreak: Young Māori least protected group with low vaccination rates

Only 54 percent of the Māori population aged between 20 and 29 have had the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

While more than 70 percent of almost all age, ethnic and gender demographics have now had at least one dose of the vaccine, young Māori are the least protected group in the country.

In general, the 20-29 age band appeared to be the hardest to reach.

A quarter of Māori men that age were fully vaccinated.

That compared to 73 percent for Pasifika, 77 percent for Pākehā, and almost all of the Asian ethnicity in the same age group having had at least a first dose.

Ngāti Rangi operations manager Elijah Pue, who is also a Ruapehu district councillor, said he believed two distinct groups now formed the majority of those yet to get the vaccine.

"It's a mixture of different things including the advent of pro-choice being a campaign people are wishing to follow. There's also on the other hand the anti-vax campaign, which I see as two very different campaigns but which nonetheless have a presence here in the Ruapehu."

However, he had seen some people come around and he believed whānau, iwi and health leaders just needed more time to reach those who were hesitant.

"While we are seeing a low number of people coming through the clinics these days, we are seeing people who we approached six or seven weeks ago and who refused to be vaccinated, they're now coming through our door. So while the numbers are low quantitatively, we're seeing people who we didn't think we'd see in the vaccination clinic ever," he said.

Super Saturday had provided some examples of that.

"I saw an anti-vax person come and I didn't mention it ... but I saw that person come in and get their vaccination and so that tells me that, yes the numbers are low, but we are getting through to the right people."

Some people, particularly in rural areas, did not have the time to make their way to vaccination centres and efforts had to be made to bring the vaccine to them, Pue said.

Kawerau was the least vaccinated area of the country with one in three yet to get even a first dose.

Te Whata Tau ō Putauaki tumuaki Ripeka Lessels said reluctance to get the vaccine seemed to be a family-wide issue.

"If parents are not getting good reputable information then they will influence their children," she said.

"Therein lies the issue for small Māori community like ours - things like this need to be with the whole family. We can't separate out the young folk from their families, so we need to find a way to include mum and dad or koro or whoever the adults are in their families and home."

Vaccination rates among Māori aged 12 to 19 were not much better than those aged 20 to 29.

Lessels said the young people she spoke to simply wanted more information.

"The ones I have spoken to are the ones of the age group that can get vaccinated and they said to me their biggest fear is they don't know what's in the vaccine and they can't find someone reputable enough to tell them what is in the vaccine.

"If that's the only issue then we can certainly find a way through."

Vaccination rates in small Māori communities could also be improved by bringing the vaccine to the whare of those who were yet to receive a dose and let the local rollout be led by a by-Māori-for-Māori approach, she said.

Despite Māori health leaders calling for exactly that for months, it had not materialised in Kawerau.

"At the moment we've got to take the families to the vaccine centre.

"If we ... provided a facility that went to families, talked to families, talked to mum and dad at their place and informed them then maybe the stats will change. In fact, Te Tairāwhiti has shown the stats have changed. So if we could adopt a model like that here in Kawerau it would be one way of increasing the vaccination rate."

Te Mana Ākonga tumuaki takirua Renata White said misinformation online, particularly on social media, remained a big problem for young Māori.

"They've seen something that has disturbed them and it's caused mistrust of the government or what information is being made available to them.

"They have a lot more trust - in their words - of what they've researched over what's been bombarded on to them.

"I do need to acknowledge there's a lot of effort they're putting into looking into it, but there's a disconnect between what I would find valuable versus what they find valuable."

That could only be overcome through the efforts of friends and whānau, White said.