Public health expert calls David Seymour 'irrelevant' after tweet encouraging people to use Māori code to get COVID-19 vaccine

A public health expert says David Seymour is "irrelevant" after he encouraged people to use a Māori access code to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The ACT leader came under heavy scrutiny after he tweeted the code on Monday, with National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki telling him to "f**k off". 

But Seymour is standing by his tweet, suggesting Māori shouldn't have been prioritised for vaccines. 

"The truth is that access to vaccination has been the same for people of all ethnic backgrounds. If fewer Māori are vaccinated it can't be a problem with access, but this move by the Government insinuates that Māori have trouble making a booking," Seymour said in a press release on Monday. 

"This Government policy infantilises one group of New Zealanders and infuriates the rest. More worrying, it shows a Government obsessed with racially categorising its citizens."

Hapai Te Hauora CEO Selah Hart told The AM Show on Tuesday Seymour's tweet highlights how "irrelevant" he is. 

"I think it [tweet] just screams of someone who is really irrelevant, trying to find relevance.

"What we know is that there is a huge amount of effort going into trying to support those who most need it to get better access to our vaccination programme and therefore hopefully get on top of this COVID-19 scenario," she said.

Hart said it also shows Seymour's ignorance, given the vaccine rollout is now open to the general population and there is no need for special access codes. 

"I don't know where he's coming from because, of course, we need to take a pro equity stance to ensure those who are most in need are getting what they need, but that doesn't mean anyone else is going to get turned away at the door. 

"So I think it's really misleading of get pro equity over having a different access point when actually we are taking a proequity stance." 

She says Māori are being prioritised because their vaccine rates are lower than other communities such as pakeha. Only one in five Māori aged over 12 has had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to one in three in the general population.

"We are trying to ensure that the vaccination rates for Māori, Paskifia and other communities that are most in need actually reach the same equitable rate that we know our non-Māori, non-Pasifika communities are already at," she said. 

Hart said ensuring Māori are vaccinated won't mean anyone misses out because we have enough vaccines for everyone. 

Māori are also at least 50 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than pakeha and are 2.5 times more likely to need hospitalisation. 

Seymour's tweet was widely condemned online with many people calling him racist.