According to a Mori leader, a new method is urgently needed to entice young Mori to their Covid-19 immunizations.
Mori are still lagging behind in vaccine deployment, according to Ministry of Health data, with the greatest discrepancy among 20 to 34-year-olds.
That risks undermining the government’s hope that opening the rollout to younger age groups would fix the gap in vaccination numbers.
At Manurewa Marae, whānau have been coming in for injections for weeks now, and the number has been steadily increasing since lockdown.
But chief executive Natasha Kemp said they were coming across a hurdle: Getting rangatahi along.
“We can see it, they’re not coming, they’re not taking the uptake of being vaccinated so we’ve gotta do some more work around that,” she said.
“I think it’s about finding those key rangatahi leaders as well in our communities, and bringing them together and saying, ‘we need to do something different’.”
According to data released by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday, 34 percent of people in the European or other category are now fully vaccinated.
But for Māori, that was only 21 percent.
The disparity was largest among Māori under 50, particularly 20 to 34 year olds, who were vaccinated in far fewer numbers than the same age groups in other ethnicities.
A co-chair of the National Māori Pandemic Group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, Sue Crengle, said the gap was proving stubborn.
“That’s kind of quite disappointing. It means that the government’s views that Māori immunisation rates would increase when young people started to be vaccinated may not be realised because we’re still not being vaccinated at the same rate as non-Māori and non-Pacific people.”
Crengle has long argued there would not be a lag if equity was part of the plan from the outset.
After all, research showed Māori were more vulnerable to an outbreak, but it was also a community more sceptical of government campaigns.
Crengle said none of what was being seen should be a surprise. It had been warned about, and could have been better planned for, she said.
Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson said the vaccine rollout for Māori had not been good enough.
“I’m already on record, along with [associate health minister Peeni] Henare as saying that we could have done better at the start,” he said. “But I’m pleased with the effort that we have had, particularly in the last few weeks.”
But rangatahi were always going to be a difficult cohort to get to, and campaigns were rolling out, with the government working with a range of Māori providers, he said.
He reckoned they were starting to get cut through.
“You know rangatahi are the hardest people to get to in terms of turning things around. You know, we’re working, we’ve got influencers out there, we’re trying to ramp that up, we’re trying to turn that around,” Jackson said.
“It’s a tricky thing you know, this area.”
Kemp said Manurewa Marae and its community was working on their own strategies too, and they were not giving up.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Why don’t you want to be vaccinated? Where do you get your kōrero or your information from? What do we need to do to get you to maybe change your mind? So I’m in those discussions right at this moment with some rangatahi right at this moment, actually hearing their kōrero.”
But a lot of other rangatahi were keen to help too, and they were the ones who would boost the numbers better than any adult campaign, she said.
In her words: They will just keep chipping away until they get there.