The 90% Project: Angela Dalton – Why such a low take-up of vaccine among Māori and Pasifika?

OPINION:

What have we learnt from the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme? We have
learnt that we haven’t learnt much at all.

The call from our Māori and Pasifika community for a community-led approach to vaccinations instead of the standard bureaucratic approach was not heeded. We now find ourselves at a place where lockdowns are looking to be a control of the past if we can reach a 90 per cent plus vaccination rate.

With the country averaging at 80 per cent – including Auckland – Māoriand Pasifika
are averaging between 50 per cent and 60 per cent. Why so low is the question everyone is asking – everyone except Māori and Pasifika leaders that is.

Manurewa Marae has been a lead provider in my community of the testing and vaccination programme, an urban marae which opened its doors to all in its community, it has vaccinated 33,000 people, only 7000 of those were Māori. The imposed booking system was a barrier to access for Māori with complex lives.

Papakura Marae with its no=appointment drive-through vaccination station has been an exemplar model; one that should have been enabled before lockdown, but took strong advocacy from Papakura Marae to get it in place.

The rollout of the vaccination buses would have been an obvious tool for community-led providers from day one, yet it is only now that every tool in the community-led toolbox is
being looked to for reaching our Māori and Pasifika community from Government agencies – that these ideas are being given the freedom and funding to implement them, and quickly.

When level 4 began on August 17, 2021,we immediately witnessed the impact on those whose poverty has perpetuated since the beginning of Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020. Pre-determined economic and health dispositions, which existed long before Covid-19 reached our shores, were exacerbated.

Demand for food parcels in this year’s level 4 lockdown increased by between 200 per cent and 300 per cent. The Government responded with sustained investment in food and
healthcare funding, however, that does not resolve what will be a long hard tale of despair for communities that were already living in inequity.

But I digress, let’s get back to the vaccination rollout. We would be in a very different position today if we had listened to the call for a Māori and Pasifika-led response in the 2020 lockdown.

It is only this week one of our community-led organisations has been contacted for a Samoan-led approach.

It’s not good enough.

We must let go of centralised control of everything we do when our population is so ethnically diverse, when so many leaders, including myself, are not the people to decide on, or front a successful response to a vaccination programme for our communities who won’t access mainstream healthcare in South of Auckland.

What I am most disappointed in, is the subtle, yet not so subtle messaging being sent directly to me from some Aucklanders. “Why don’t you incentivise your community to get vaccinated … at the end of the day this comes down to personal responsibility … Everyone is doing their bit, why isn’t your community.”

Headlines such as “We are been held hostage by the unvaccinated” – and the statistics tell us who they are, they are us, with the us being divided by some of our own so-called team of five million.

The reasons for a below-average vaccination rate are complex. Single parents at home who can’t get to a vaccination centre; grandparents caring for grandchildren with no means of transportation; essential workers trying to ensure our hospitals are clean, our supermarkets are stocked and leaving no time to get vaccinated; families whose lives are polarised by family violence and extreme poverty.

Let’s believe in the day when we don’t have to use incentives to encourage the most vulnerable in our country to get vaccinated as they will have the peace of mind to prioritise vaccinations above providing food for their families, that they will actually be part of a society that so many believe is equitable now and full of choice but where the reality is quite the opposite.

We are all doing our best. Our best varies on our circumstances.

As the saying goes, “we may not all be in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm”.

Walk a mile, mate.

• Angela Dalton is Auckland councillor for the Manurewa-Papakura Ward.

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