Maori Ministers announce $23.5m of vaccine spending – and RNZ raises questions about the causes of disparities

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How many Ministers are needed to announce the spending of millions of dollars on vaccinations for Maori?

The names of three Ministers were attached to the statement on October 22, announcing the Government has established a $120 million fund to accelerate Māori vaccination rates and support communities to prepare for the implementation of something it called “the new COVID-19 Protection Framework”.

The old framework had reached its use-by date, presumably.

The statement bore the names of the Associate Minister for Health (Maori Health), Peeni Henare, the Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Kelvin Davis, and the Minister for Māori Development, Willie Jackson.

Among other things, they enthused at a commitment “to work with Māori providers, for a by Māori for Māori solution”.

The same three Ministers popped up today to announce the Government has approved $23.5 million from this funding for eight Māori organisations and iwi aimed at boosting Māori vaccination rates.

We were surprised to find the PM had not added her name to the statement, because she and Kelvin Davis were in Te Tai Tokerau today

“… seeing first-hand some of the successful vaccination initiatives being rolled out in Māori communities”.

Willie Jackson contributed to the statement “on behalf of the Ministerial Oversight Group reviewing funding proposals”.

He said the quality of the proposals supported the swift decision-making needed to accelerate vaccination rates for Māori.

“The task now is to put our foot on the pedal and reach Māori, particularly in high priority and low vaccination areas like Te Tai Tokerau, Counties Manukau, Lakes District, Taranaki and Tairāwhiti DHBs,” Willie Jackson said.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare said it was community mobilisation that was making all the difference.

Hmm.  We wonder how this sort of mobilisation differs from the way things are being done in non-Maori communities.

Our curiosity on this point was reinforced by an item produced by The Detail and broadcast by RNZ last night, examining why the rate of Māori vaccination stays stubbornly low as the government pours tens of millions of dollars into efforts to speed it up.

You can listen to it HERE

The Detail looked at two Māori communities in the same DHB – Bay of Plenty – with two very different vaccination stories.

It’s difficult to get comparative numbers but a rural GP practice in Te Kaha on the East Coast has been steaming ahead – it is more than 80 percent fully vaccinated for its Te Whānau ā Apanui rohe.

On the other hand the Kawerau District Council says as of 24 October the general vaccination rate was 47.2 percent fully vaccinated – about half that of Te Whānau ā Apanui which is just two hours’ drive away. They expect by 6 November they should be at 65 percent fully vaxxed.

Senior lecturer at Otago University and a member of the local hapū Te Pahipoto, Morgan Godfery, told The Detail there were big differences between Te Whānau ā Apanui and Kawerau.

“In Te Whānau ā Apanui most of the Maori in that rohe identify as members of the local iwi, whereas in Kawerau the iwi dynamics are much different because most of the Māori who live in Kawerau are from Tūhoe, which is not the local iwi in Kawerau.”

Kawerau iwi are Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau and Ngāti Awa.

“So you get to a problem where the iwi members who are helping to run the vaccination programme in Kawerau are not actually connected to the majority of Maori who live there.”

Godfery says it is one of the many barriers to the vaccination rollout.

“Iwi providers can certainly roll out the vaccine to their own iwi members but there’s something of a challenge when they start to roll out the vaccine to wider Māori groups.”

Institutional racism in our health establishment and the grim consequences of colonisation have been given as reasons for explaining the disparities between Maori and non-Maori vaccination rates.

Godfery seems to be telling us the tribal nature of Maori society is a significant consideration.

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