Coronavirus: Ministry of Health agrees to hand over some vaccination data to Māori health providers

The Ministry of Health has started handing over data on unvaccinated Māori to the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, health Minister Andrew Little revealed on Saturday.

The two bodies have been fighting a battle in court over the data, which Whanau Ora says is needed to lift vaccination rates amongst Māori - who lag behind other ethnicities, for a variety of reasons.

The Ministry of Health had previously refused, citing privacy reasons - even after a High Court ruling that it should reconsider its stance. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he and the ministry had spoken to Māori leaders and iwi before making the decision - not ruling out sharing some at a later date.

John Tamihere, chief executive of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, otld RNZ there was "no doubt" Māori vaccination rates across the North Island would improve if providers knew where to find those yet to have their jabs.

Little told Newshub Nation on Saturday the ministry had handed over some location-specific data, suggesting the agency's initial request may have been too broad.

"I expect data previously not released to be released. But I also appreciate there is some data that may not actually be relevant or appropriate to be disclosed. It is for the ministry… to make sure they get that right.

"I understand first of all some data has been released in the past couple of days that meets Whanau Ora's needs. There is still some that the Whanau Ora commissioning agency is saying they want more of, and there is ongoing discussion."

Asked if the Ministry of Health had effectively backed down, Little said there were "ongoing discussions".

"They've been engaging with the relevant parties and data in relation to Tamaki Makaurua/Auckland and Waikato has been released."

Next year, a new Māori Health Authority is expected to be established. Little, who is driving the biggest shakeup to our health system in two decades, said the public scrap between the two would likely have been avoided if it was already in place.

"The Māori Health Authority would have control of relevant health data... providing the kind of leadership and stewardship you would expect for the Māori community, I think would make a difference. With them having an independent authority to engage with Māori health providers, Māori organisations, Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, and with their own data, they would be in a much better position to see this issue through."

Despite the unique risks COVID poses to Māori as a population, many have taken part in protests against vaccination and lockdowns, following prominent figures like Brian Tamaki. Despite facing charges over breaking alert level rules, Tamaki's group the Freedom and Rights Coalition held a car-based protest on Saturday, threatening to gridlock the nation's cities - without any apparent success at the time of writing.

Little, who is also the minister responsible for the nation's security services, said people had a right to protest peacefully. 

"It is right that if people are frustrated, they do protest and demonstrate and express their views, as we saw this week in Parliament. We haven't seen any indications of people mobilising to violence… Of course this is important - when people feel their freedoms are being restricted, tell the Government what you feel about it. Of course you should do. But this is not a time for violence or putting others at harm."

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