Coronavirus: Government may have significantly underestimated Māori population eligible for vaccination

With just 46 percent of eligible Māori vaccinated, the Government is giving $120 million directly to iwi and community providers to turbocharge the rollout.

But analysis by Māori health providers, released to Newshub, shows the Government may have significantly underestimated the eligible population - Māori aged 12 and over - and therefore the size of the challenge.

Kaiarahi John Ormsby says right from the get-go, the vaccine sequencing wasn't right for Māori.

"Māori people don't send their koros or their nannies away from home to be vaccinated - they will come with them," he says.

"Whānau like to look at each other and get vaccinated at the same time."

That means we could have got younger Māori vaccinated sooner, with the over-65 Māori vaccination rate are really high. 

Nationwide, just 46 percent of eligible Māori are fully vaccinated.

"This describes the challenge in front of us," says Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

It's a huge challenge - but with no specific targets.

"There's no shame in saying we are going to set Māori targets, the shame, I believe, would be not setting them," says  Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair. 

The Government argues they have set targets through regional DHBs.

"[It's] our best way of making sure no matter where you live in the country, we have good rates - and no matter who you are," says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

The Government is supercharging the rollout to Māori - $120 million is being pumped directly to providers.

"It will be directly to those groups and organisations and providers that will lift our vaccination rates - we've made that clear," Henare says. 

Raukawa-Tait says we need to remove the barriers "and make sure Māori are not stigmatised now because they're seen to be dragging the chain".

But Māori health expert Lance Norman says the challenge ahead could be even bigger than the Government realises.

The Ministry of Health estimates there to be 571,052 eligible Māori. But that's only counting those who are engaged with the health system. Norman says using Stats NZ data, the Māori eligible population should actually be about 638,000.

That's potentially 67,000 people uncounted for.

"It'll be catastrophic from a whānau point of view, it'll be catastrophic from a health point of view," says Norman. 

The vaccination rollout is yet another example of the health system failing Māori. Now, the Government is going around it, creating a group of ministers who can get cash out the door fast, directly to Maori-providers who know how to use it - finally.