Coronavirus: Lagging vaccination rate will be 'literally fatal' for Māori - Dr Rawiri Jansen

Māori not being prioritized during the early vaccination rollout could prove catastrophic if the current outbreak worsens, one of the Government's own former advisers warns.

Dr Rawiri Jansen is co-leader of the Māori pandemic response group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā. He quit the Government's Immunisation Implementation Advisory Group in April, saying they weren't 'following the science'.

"The science said very clearly that Māori are at risk from age 44 in an equivalent way to a 65-year-old Pākehā man. That's our age group that we need to worry about," he told Newshub Nation.

"We should have been prioritized in the vaccine rollout and we weren't... that's a fatal flaw. It will literally be fatal and we are seeing that come to pass."

Figures released this week show Māori lag behind all other ethnic groups in the vaccination rollout. Only 57.6 percent have had their first dose compared to 74 percent for Pasifika, 81 percent for European and 96 percent for Asian people.

Dr Jansen stressed the vaccination gap is not a lack of willingness on behalf of Māori but due to implementation failures and a lack of resourcing. 

"There is no problem with Māori and vaccine acceptance. We've been accepting vaccines for a long time. You know, at the clinics that I've worked at, we've had 95 percent of childhood immunizations done on time. So it's a matter of getting the vaccine to our people."

Some of the hardest to reach people in the current outbreak are gangs, with the Government under fire this week when it was revealed the head of the Waikato Mongrel Mob chapter was given an essential worker's exemption to enter Auckland.

However Dr Jansen believes coordinating with gangs is necessary to reach communities yet to be vaccinated and will take part in a Mongrel Mob Waikato vaccination event next week.

"I think you can let go of it being all about gangs. It's actually about people, right? It's about people who may have been exposed to being overpoliced or underhoused," he said.

"This is a part of our community we haven't looked after very well for a very long time. They're going to be hesitant about any official source. So number one, you've got to build a relationship, you've got to be trustworthy so that you can be trusted."

A mass immunisation push is planned across the country on October 16, with vaccination centres operating extended hours into the evening.

"Our enemy is the virus, isn't it? Let's be a team of five million and support everybody that we can so that we get the best vaccination program possible," Dr Jansen said.

Elsewhere in the interview, he agreed with Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare's proposal that Auckland should keep its border shut until Māori vaccination rates were higher.

"We need three or four more weeks to catch up to the mainstream. But come on, give us the resources. We gotta get this done."

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