Māori providers ‘pivotal’ in rollout

March 1, 2021

Māori and iwi health providers in Northland are preparing to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination to remote and vulnerable Māori communities.

Ki A Ora Ngātiwai iwi health provider clinical manager and nurse Sharon Russell said iwi providers would play a “pivotal” role in ensuring any vaccination programme would reach those most at risk of missing out in rural Māori populations. “The Māori providers have direct, up-to-date links with those communities and will play a pivotal role in meeting those needs.”

Vaccinating communities was still likely to be several weeks away, as the health workforce would need to be vaccinated first.

Managing vaccine ‘complex’

Managing a cold-chain vaccine was complex and would need to be carefully managed. Russell said the Northland District Health Board (DHB) had been working closely with iwi providers on how the rollout would work when the time came, she said. “There has been really good communication between the DHB and partners in this – they have made every effort to be inclusive,” Russell said.

“This is a massive undertaking for Tai Tokerau and a lot of thought has gone into how this might work and accessing communities at risk.”

Far North Māori provider, Whakawhiti Ora Pai, clinical manager and nurse Maureen Allan said it would be important, as part of the rollout, for whānau to have the chance to ask questions about the vaccines to help their understanding.

“Part of our strategy is to go out and talk to communities and maraes and give them that opportunity.”

Māori providers had been working closely with the Northland DHB to ensure access and equity for remote Māori populations. The provider covered the communities of Te Hapua, Te Kao, Ngataki and Pukenui.

Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) national manager Loretta Roberts said IMAC was working with Māori and iwi health providers around the country to ensure staff were confident as the rollout approached – including communication about the vaccine to address any possible hesitancy.

So far, apart from some misinformation on social media, “it seems to be okay”.

Minister for the COVID-19 response Chris Hipkins has said there would be a specific vaccination rollout plan for Māori, focused on giving them confidence to receive the vaccine.

That would involve working closely with Māori health providers, he said in response to a parliamentary question by Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. “One of the things we’re very mindful of is that we need to ensure Māori feel confident in receiving the vaccine and they’re more likely to feel confident… if they’re receiving that vaccine through health providers they have an existing, trusting relationship with,” the minister said.

Ngarewa-Packer has said Māori are more vulnerable to COVID-19 at earlier stages than the general population.

“History shows us that Māori have been the ones to suffer the most through pandemics in the past – we must be ahead of the curve now and ensure that doesn’t happen.”