Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March raises concerns about 'inequitable' COVID-19 traffic light system

Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March has described the new COVID-19 'traffic light' system as "inequitable" for several reasons, including that some trans people will be forced to use their 'dead' name. 

The new COVID Protection Framework, which will replace the current alert level system, comes into effect on Friday. Freedoms will be determined by vaccine certificates and gathering limits depending on which level a region is at. 

While a strong supporter of vaccination, Menéndez March is concerned the new vaccine certificate system will disproportionately affect some communities, such as migrants, seniors and transgender people. 

"Our concern is that we're rushing into the traffic light system which has meant that the vaccine pass system has been rolled out with what seems to be little consultation with communities that have been historically marginalised," he told Newshub. 

"What we've ended up with is a hard-to-access system that is creating high barriers for many groups, particularly senior citizens and migrants, many who are facing the prospect of not being able to go to work or participate in our society, when we move into the traffic light system, which is really concerning. 

"For many elderly who are either isolated or in remote areas, the digital divide ends up being a barrier."

And for some transgender people who only have a birth certificate as their form of ID, downloading a vaccine pass will mean being forced to use their 'dead' name, or the name they were given at birth before transitioning. 

"Concerns have been raised about the vaccine pass effectively dead-naming people because people are having to use the names that they would have had in their official documentation and not the names that affirm their gender identity," Menéndez March said. 

"We know from surveys that have been carried out in the community that this has a real negative impact on people's mental health and it may ultimately create the conditions where people are not able to participate in this new traffic light system. 

"That's a big concern."

Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March.
Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March. Photo credit: Facebook / Ricardo Menéndez March

The process to change the gender on passports and driver's licenses is simpler than birth certificates. Anyone wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate needs "medical evidence" and to apply through the Family Court. 

The Government's Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR Bill) currently under consideration in Parliament would change it to a simple statutory declaration - the current process for changing it on a driver's licence or passport. 

"We're facing the real prospect of creating an inequitable rollout of the traffic light system due to the teething issues that the vaccine pass is facing," Menéndez March said. 

"This is the result of rushing away from an elimination strategy into the traffic light system."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Newshub a solution for trans people who only have a birth certificate as a form of ID is being worked on. 

"We are committed to making the vaccination programme as inclusive and equitable as possible for all New Zealanders. We are aware that there is a problem with some people's My Vaccine Pass being issued in their dead names and are working on a solution as quickly as possible."

The Ministry of Health has also tried to make getting a vaccine pass easier for elderly people by allowing them to pick one up from their local pharmacy.

"Over the next couple of days customers will be able to go to a pharmacy and request their My Vaccine Pass," said Michael Dreyer, Group Manager National Digital Services.

"Nearly 400 pharmacies around the country currently providing COVID-19 vaccinations will now also be able to assist people with getting a vaccine pass."

A My Vaccine Pass will be required to enter some close-contact businesses under the new 'traffic light' system.
A My Vaccine Pass will be required to enter some close-contact businesses under the new 'traffic light' system. Photo credit: File

With nearly 70,000 calls received in one day last week to the 0800 222 478 number, Dreyer said capacity is being added to call centres to support customers wanting to set up their My COVID Record, check their NHI number, or generate their My Vaccine Pass. 

Earlier this month a grandchild reached out to Newshub concerned about their 76-year-old grandmother not being able to sign up for a pass because she is a permanent resident - not a citizen - and also does not have a driver licence. 

The Ministry of Health was aware of the implication when alerted to it by Newshub, and provided some guidance

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday there had been an "unprecedented" number of people calling in about vaccine passes. 

"You will have seen that the ministry has now issued more than 2 million My Vaccine Passes. That means more than half of all vaccinated New Zealanders now have their pass. That's an incredible effort in just over a week."