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Covid 19 coronavirus: Rawiri Waititi says Māori must make vaccine decision for themselves

By Meriana Johnsen of RNZ

Māori MPs are reluctant to tell Māori they should get the Covid-19 injection, saying it’s about mana motuhake and whānau have the right to choose.

The Government has put $39 million towards a targeted Māori Covid-19 vaccination strategy, which includes $24.5m for the development of community support services to be run by Māori health providers.

The vaccine framework would also directly give 40,000 courses of the vaccine to Māori and Pacific health providers across the country to immunise older people, and the family members they live with.

“This whānau-centred approach means that an entire whānau can be vaccinated altogether and will help to keep our people safe,” associate minister of health Peeni Henare said.

They’re in the second stage of the rollout, alongside elderly and people with relevant health conditions in South Auckland.

Manukau Urban Māori Authority chairman Bernie O’Donnell said there was “now light at the end of the tunnel”.

“For too long now we’ve been frontline in terms of our geographic location but also in terms of our vulnerability … so it’s great to know that the Government recognises that we are vulnerable,” he said.

Māori health leaders like Turuki Health chief executive Te Puea Winiata have consistently called for Māori over 50 years old to be prioritised for vaccination, because they’re more at risk than the general population.

“Although we would’ve preferred to have seen a reduction in the age of the eligibility, we are still able to work with members of the whānau around kuia, kaumātua.”

As part of the targeted Māori vaccination plan, $11m would be given to providers to put the right infrastructure in place, and train their staff.

Health providers have consistently called for funding so they can vaccinate on marae and through mobile or pop-up clinics.

Henare said they were still working on this.

“The challenge is this: in order to cool store the vaccine so that it isn’t compromised, that’s difficult to do in places like Te Kahao and Nūhaka so we’re going to have to make sure we have the infrastructure.”

Another $2m will be given to iwi for communications campaigns to help Māori.

A Ministry of Health commissioned-survey found Māori and Pasifika were less confident about the safety and quality of the Covid-19 vaccine than the rest of the population.

Henare has previously told RNZ that up to one in five Māori could be hesitant.

“That’s what we like to call ‘ancedata’ but there’s also a series of information that tells us it’s relatively high and particular amongst our people.”

The survey from September last year found only 31 per cent of Māori would definitely take the vaccine, with 23 per cent saying they wouldn’t get the jab.

A recent poll commissioned by Horizon Research and The Hui found 12 per cent of more than 500 Māori surveyed saying they definitely wouldn’t take the vaccine, with another 11 per cent saying they were unlikely to.

Making pathway clear

Recently released data found half of those who’ve ended up in ICU from Covid-19 have been Māori.

Despite this, Māori party co-leader Rawiri Waititi won’t tell tangata whenua they must get the vaccine.

“Because that’s what mana motuhake is all about, mana motuhake is about everybody being able to freely make that choice. We’re not going to make it mandatory and I would be against that,” Waititi said.

“Mine and Deb’s job here in this Parliament is to make sure the pathway is clear for those who choose to take the vaccine.”

Misinformation was a concern for Waititi who implored Māori to get the right information from their GPs.

The Minister of Māori Development, Willie Jackson, also supported Māori having the choice.

“But … I’ll be encouraging my community very, very strongly to take that vaccine, but our people have a right, no doubt about it.”

'Unhelpful' comments

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare told RNZ Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi’s comments were concerning – but he understood his sentiments.

“One of our biggest challenges and obligations is to to make sure our whānau are informed. Ultimately, the choice comes down to an individual. I’ve taken a stance that’s it’s also irresponsible if people don’t consider that information and make the right choice to get vaccinated.”

It was the responsibility of politicians to make sure people got vaccinated, he said.

“I am more than happy to talk with Rawiri about his comments. My stance remains the same, that if we want a return back to a sense of normality, the vaccine is a key part of that.”

He did not buy the argument around self-determination for Māori and deciding to get vaccinated or not.

“Mana motuhake manifests itself in many ways for individual hapū and iwi. For my whānau for example, mana motuhake is about protecting our whānau … I think in the main part [Waititi’s] comments are unhelpful.”

In the meantime, the likes of Turuki Health in South Auckland have been gearing up for the rollout, with their staff already trained, having done the job at MIQ facilities.

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