Aircraft bearing names of Māori Battalion soldiers take to east coast skies in vaccination drive

New Zealand's vaccination drive on the east coast was taken to new heights on Saturday - literally.

Aircraft bearing the names of soldiers who fought in the Māori Battalion during World War II flew into aerodromes across Tairawhiti, hoping to encourage descendants to get jabbed.

Taking the COVID fight to flight - the wairua (or spirit) of men who have fought before brought in to join a fight once more.

"We are not at war but we're at war against COVID," one person says.

Six light planes from as far as Wellington and Te Awamutu made their way to Tairawhiti - stopping in at remote communities.

The planes bore the names of soldiers who were part of the Māori Battalion 'C' Company - Māori men from across the east coast who served during WWII.

"They didn't know where they were going. They didn't know when they would come home but they knew the call came to go and protect their country," one person says,

"So all we're trying to do is get people to reconnect. It's not about you, it's about the community."

From the sky the Tairawhiti coastline is rugged and beautiful. But it also highlights just how isolated the region is a blessing and a curse because it's partly to blame for its low vaccination rate - particularly for Māori.

Just 61 percent of Māori in Tairawhiti are doubled dosed - 77 percent with their first vaccine.

As the country moves to the traffic light system health practitioners are racing the clock - because Māori are not only the least vaccinated group, they're already the most affected.

Te Pati Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Newshub Nation she's worried what summer will bring.

"I am extremely concerned the way the numbers are tracking and the way Māori are being the most affected," she says.

"I believe this is gonna be the toughest Christmas summer breaks we are ever going to have."

All the more reason these pushes to get whanau protected are so important.

"Painless - don't know what all the fuss was about. Go get it everyone," one vaccinated person says.

Especially in honour of the men who fought before them.

"They put their lives on the line to keep our whanau here on the coast safe, it is only fitting we do the same," Labour MP Meka Whaitiri says.

So their memory can live on forever.