Covid 19 coronavirus: Govt rejected expert advice to vaccinate 160,000 Māori and Pasifika earlier

The Government rejected expert advice to give higher vaccine priority to Māori and Pacific peoples aged 50-64, and to those in residential care, including the imprisoned, the homeless and the addicted.

“It is concerning because that suggests that we’re slipping away from following the science – that’s problematic,” said Dr Rawiri Jansen, who quit the Government’s expert immunisation advisory group over the issue.

Most Māori and Pacific peoples up to the age of 64 will instead be part of the general rollout, while those aged 65 and over will have the same priority as the others in that age group – even though they are much more likely to catch Covid-19 and have more severe outcomes.

“The higher proportion of cases among Māori and Pacific peoples linked to the August 2020 cluster demonstrates the significant risk of infection and transmission in these communities,” said a paper which Cabinet considered on March 1.

“The rate of infection during the second wave was six people per 100,000 for Māori (47 cases) and 32.3 people per 100,000 for Pacific peoples (104 cases), compared to rates of 1.3 for European/other and 2.2 for Asian per 100,000.

“Officials recommend that in the roll-out of Tier 3 to older people, a risk-adjusted age
factor of 15 years (younger) is to be explicitly applied to Māori and Pacific peoples.”

According to Stats NZ, the latest data from 2018 shows 112,050 Māori and 46,780 Pacific people aged between 50 and 64 years.

Instead of prioritising those more susceptible to catching Covid-19, Jansen said the Government appeared to be hoping they simply didn’t catch it.

“Hope is not a plan.”

Australia is vaccinating Aboriginal people 55 and over at the same time as those 70 and over in the general population, while Canada is vaccinating First Nations adults at the same time as older people in the general population and in aged residential care.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that all advice was carefully considered to ensure the sequencing framework was “fair, balanced and risk-based”.

He said 40,000 vaccine doses were provided for Māori and Pacific health providers for group 2, to be used for older Māori and Pasifika cared for by whānau.

“These actions and the sequencing of putting people with underlying health conditions ahead of the rest of the general population was determined to be the best way of addressing health inequities during the vaccine rollout,” Hipkins said.

Jansen noted that Cabinet was advised to do this alongside prioritising Māori and Pacific people aged 50 and over.

The Cabinet paper also said group 2 should be expanded beyond those in aged residential care to include all those in long-term residential care settings.

That included those in mental health and addiction facilities, Oranga Tamariki (including youth justice) and Corrections (custodial and community based) facilities, and the homeless in transitional housing.

Such people not only had a higher likelihood of underlying conditions, but also close-contact living situations.

“It is not just residents of aged residential care facilities who face a risk multiplier of both living environment and a particular risk of severe health outcomes,” the paper said.

Cabinet decided to only expand group 2 to those in long-term residential care homes, including disability residential homes. Prisoners and people 65 and over were also added to group 2, but only those in South Auckland.

As at midnight on Monday, 2111 vaccinations have been administered at prison sites.

Prisoners in group 2 are not publicised on the Ministry of Health site, which showed a lack of transparency, Act Party leader David Seymour said.

“Doing something so covertly just doesn’t build public trust. It’s an example of the paternalistic ‘don’t worry, be happy’ approach this Government has taken.

“I think the public has a right to know what’s going on and to be treated like adults.”

He added: “It does seem bizarre that people who will be behind bars for the foreseeable future would be more of a priority for vaccination than law-abiding Kiwis who are waiting to travel or rely on tourists for their businesses.”

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