Government leaning towards no specific Māori vaccination target under new COVID-19 alert level system

Māori have made up 45 percent of COVID-19 cases over the past fortnight, leading to calls that any easing of restrictions shouldn't be considered until Māori vaccination rates are high enough.

But Newshub understands the Government is not leaning toward a specific Māori vaccination target. 

In Auckland's Manukau, it's come to incentives to get people vaccinated, because the hard to reach need protection. Professional boxer Dave Letele called up the lucky one who got the lucky shot along with $5000. 

"The majority of people that we've had through today are exactly that - our people - and they're the hard-to-reach people, they're the people that didn't go to Super Saturday, the people that are very vaccine-hesitant," Letele says. 

Pasifika were the first frontline of this outbreak - but now it's Māori.

"I say to the Māori people: COVID-19 is on the doorstep of your houses," Associate Health Minister for Māori Peeni Henare said on Tuesday. "Do not let it enter, and the best course of protection still remains for us to vaccinate our people."

But there's a lot of work to do to get Māori vaccination rates above 90 percent for the eligible population, and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins knows it.

"It could be weeks but it could also be months," Hipkins said. 

Currently, only 66 percent of the eligible population has had a first dose. 

"We kind of need a Māori Super Saturday every weekend until Christmas," says Lance Norman, health reforms lead, Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency.

Norman says to double-dose 90 percent of Māori, the realistic target for first doses should be 100 percent. 

More than 190,000 of the eligible Māori population hasn't had a single dose. At October's average rate of about 3400 first doses a day, it will take until December 14 to get a single dose to everyone.

The average wait time for dose two is 28 days, meaning 90 percent may not be achieved until at least January 11 next year. 

"That's the best-case scenario, as we'll be finished early in January," says Norman. "The worst-case scenario is you've got to add a couple of months to track down where the whānau are and convince them to be vaccinated."

On Friday, the Government will announce how it plans to move away from alert levels to a new traffic light system that utilises vaccines. It'll also tell us what vaccination target we need to hit before lockdowns become a relic of the past.

Ardern wouldn't say on Tuesday if a specific Māori target will be set. 

"We've always been concerned about ever creating a space where anyone interprets that there's room for people to be left behind and so yes, we've been thinking about that in the work that we're doing," she said. 

Norman says there needs to be one, otherwise it leaves Māori at risk.

"There will need to be a target but there'll need to be specific measures to say, we will not move the alert level system or the traffic light system, until we know a large number of Māori are fully vaccinated."

Part of the reason there hasn't been overall vaccination targets introduced thus far is they're quite blunt. The Government has argued it wouldn't work because they don't reflect certain populations like Māori who have lower rates than the general population.

But having said that, Newshub understands the Government is shying away from specific Māori targets. 

It's more likely what we'll see on Friday is an attempt to address it in a different way - basing the targets on areas or regions rather than ethnicity.