‘If you want to have a Christmas, get vaccinated' - Henare

By Will Trafford

The government is defending its decision to dump Māori vaccination targets in its Aotearoa reopening plan, saying it would only ‘vilify’ whānau, despite political opponents arguing the decision is tantamount to genocide.

'For a while now, a number of them have been asking us to set a target,' Associate health minister Peeni Henare said in an interview with Discovery.

"What we knew was if we do that too early, people turn against those who haven't been vaccinated yet. And that's why we didn't want to vilify those who were yet to be vaccinated.” He said.

On Friday the government unveiled its new 'traffic light' covid-19 response system, once DHB regions hit 90% double vaccination virtually all businesses and schools will reopen and lockdowns will be lifted.

'We have vaccines, we can’t ask vaccinated people to stay home forever' PM Ardern told assembled media.

86 percent of people have had one dose of vaccine nationwide, while in Tāmaki that’s tipping almost 90 percent, but Māori rates in regions like Tai Tokerau are just 64 percent.

Rushed, Risky and Genocidal

The Greens slammed the plan as ‘rushed and risky’ while Te Pāti Māori and one Māori health expert slammed the plan genocidal, given Māori are more likely to suffer complications or death from covid.

Henare said rather than vaccine targets which he feared could make Māori themselves a target, a new $120 Million fund would serve to accelerate the Māori rates ahead of reopening.

'This is a marathon, but we're in a sprint period now and we want to give it absolutely everything.'

'Yes, there are people who are anti-vax, but there is still a large proportion of our community who are just hesitant, and if we vilify them I'm afraid we will have lost them in this challenge.' Henare said.

Given Māori population rates skew younger Henare conceded current projections meant roughly 50 percent of Māori (when including as yet non-eligible children) would be unvaccinated by the time the nation hits the 90 percent reopening target.

'That is disappointing and I've expressed my frustration over a number of weeks now,' he said.

'Our job is to make sure it’s available to everybody, but we have to draw a line in the sand at some point in time and look towards moving into the future.’

‘If you want to have a Christmas, if you want to have summer with your whānau, then we need you to get vaccinated'

Henare backed the Prime minister’s Friday statement highlighting the tough road ahead for those who choose not to be vaccinated.

‘If you want to go to a restaurant or bar, get vaccinated. If you want to go to a gym or sports event, get vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated everyday there will be things you miss out on.’ Ardern said.

Henare acknowledged the fears of some Iwi leaders that many Māori may end up living as second-class citizens should they choose not to be vaccinated, but reiterated the extended period whānau have been given to come to a decision on the vaccine.

‘That's the choice they're going to have to make.’

‘If you want to have a Christmas, if you want to have summer with your whānau, then we need you to get vaccinated," he said. "There has been months of information, months of community engagement. Now is the time.’ He said.