Coronavirus: Fears low vaccination uptake will increase inequities for Māori once borders open

The Associate Health Minister fears if ethnic disparities in the vaccine rollout aren't solved, the consequences will be further inequities down the line. 

Māori are trailing other groups when it comes to getting vaccinated. While a number of reasons for this have been put forward - an inequitable health system and suspicion of authority among them - if it's not fixed, Peeni Henare fears Māori will have even less access to services in the future. 

Vaccine passports are on the way, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday. And there has been growing talk amongst politicians, employers and the legal community over the legal rights of the unvaccinated - whether they can be denied employment or entry to premises, for example. 

Not everyone who hasn't been vaccinated is an anti-vaxxer, however. The vaccine rollout has had great success in reaching Kiwis of European and Asian ancestry, with 47 and 41 percent of those eligible fully vaccinated, respectively. But only 35 percent of Pasifika and 26 percent of Māori have had their second jabs, despite being statistically at much greater risk of serious illness or death, should they be infected, due to socio-economic factors and pre-existing health conditions. 

"We know that there are those communities like the Māori and Pacific communities whose rates are so low, that we've got a particular job to get them even higher than where they are now," Henare told The AM Show on Thursday. 

"The numbers have improved significantly over the past six weeks, but we know that if we look towards the future and what more freedoms might look like, we have to throw the kitchen sink at every effort to make sure those communities have access to the vaccine and more importantly, uptake the vaccine."

He fears failure to do so will see a greater number of Māori and Pasifika shut out society if requiring proof of vaccination becomes the norm.

"Evidence around the world is suggesting that the inequities will continue to grow for those particular communities. 

"We've got a challenge to make sure we get it right now so that further down the line, those inequities don't continue in that community. That's a result of… shutting them out because they're unable to access certain things because [they haven't got] the vaccine."

Peeni Henare.
Peeni Henare. Photo credit: The AM Show

National Party leader Judith Collins said on Wednesday she feared we'd "end up with two classes of people" in New Zealand if vaccination status became a reason to fire or not hire people. She was more positive towards vaccine passports for entering venues when speaking to Stuff earlier in September. 

Hipkins told RNZ on Wednesday the initial passport would be something like a QR code you could download, but hopes eventually an international standard would be agreed to. 

"The only thing I can say to everybody out there is make yourself available to the vaccine," said Henare. "We know there's a mountain to climb."