With the impending launch of the COVID immunisation programme in Aotearoa, it is critical to note that Māori have been poorly served by past immunisation programmes such as measles and influenza.
These challenges are further compounded considering that both Māori and Pasifika are the populations most at risk in regard to COVID.
This is in terms of exposure to the virus, and being more likely to experience worse outcomes from a COVID infection due to existing co-morbidities.
The COVID immunisation programme provides the NZ Government with the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to hauora Māori (Māori wellbeing).
This opportunity is to create an immunisation response that benefits all Māori. Previous immunisation programmes have failed Māori, not from a technical aspect in terms of administering a vaccine, but because they have not empowered whānau Māori to make decisions themselves.
Already lessons learned from other international COVID immunisation programmes are highlighting equity as a factor for success.
Alaska is credited with running the most effective COVID vaccination roll out of all states in the USA3 as they have designed their strategy to work in partnership with the 229 sovereign tribes, who better know their communities and can make sure even the most far-flung residents don’t slip through the cracks.
Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Anne Zink, says that “empowering communities, giving them the tools and resources to do it in the way that they know how to do is often times faster and more efficient and is done in a way that makes sense for that community.”
National Hauora Coalition (NHC), as part of the newly formed WERO Hauora Immunisation Alliance, strongly endorses and advocates for the work underway by this alliance and their development of a Māori-led national COVID vaccination and immunisation plan, which is intended to be delivered through existing strong regional/local bodies such as iwi, whānau ora commissioning agencies and other Hauora Māori providers.
Using existing Māori social structures that are already in place (i.e., iwi, hapū, mataawaka and marae), to ensure that whānau and hapori Māori are well informed, will not only increase COVID immunisation uptake but have wider benefits.
As Simon Royal, NHC CEO, notes “Māori leadership of the programme for our own communities will give whānau a sense of empowerment and understanding which will have flow-on benefits for other immunisation programmes such as measles and influenza”.
Mr Royal continued that there are other potential far reaching positive impacts for hauora Māori beyond the immediate COVID immunisation programme. “We have the opportunity to incorporate mātauranga Māori practices into the mainstream immunisation programme so that it allows whānau Māori to have broader choices about where they can be immunised. We also have the opportunity to increase Māori and Pasifika representation in our health workforce by broadening the range of immunisation roles non-regulated health workers can perform.”
Mr Royal’s final comments emphasised that “we need a COVID immunisation programme that
serves all Māori, irrespective of where they live, so we don’t leave any Māori community behind.
This is our opportunity to show what the future can look like, today”.