Māori over 25 need jabs now - Dr Rawiri Jansen

By Marena Mane

Last night, as the country was placed on Level 4 lockdown, scientists raced to identify the source of the newest community case of Covid-19, which was determined to be the extremely infectious Delta variant of the type raging through New South Wales.

More than 2.5 million doses of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine had been provided in New Zealand as of Monday this week, with 934,000 people fully vaccinated.

That equates to one out of every five New Zealanders but what does this mean for the Māori population?

National Hauora Coalition clinical director D. Rawiri McKree Jansen predicts a lot of cases may emerge in the next few days due to the Delta variant's hyper transmissibility. He claims New Zealand has only one chance to stop the pandemic and that people must give it their all. “And so going hard, going early is really required.”

Jansen says he's concerned about Māori over the age of 25, and that in the coming weeks, New Zealand will have an opportunity to boost the vaccination process to protect whānau and Māori communities.

“I think we're just going to have to do it with every whānau, every household bubble, reach out and make it easy for Māori to get vaccinated. And we're just going to have to get as much of that done in the next two weeks that we can.”

Vaccinating tamariki

Earlier this year, Medsafe gave the approval to vaccinate tamariki aged between 12 and 15 years with the Pfizer vaccine and, according to Jansen, tamariki Māori should be a priority as 30% of the population is under the age of 16.

Jansen says Māori must trust that Medsafe will continue to review this data to maintain its safety because data from the Pfizer vaccine shows it is safe to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds.

“I would like to see us reaching in and protecting whānau, protecting children and protecting our community by vaccinating five to 11-year-olds and that's not too far away, I think that's going to be within the next month or six weeks.”

Does the Pfizer vaccine work?

 Jansen thinks the Pfizer vaccine is "pretty good" at combating the Delta variant, and getting 95% of the community vaccinated is where New Zealand needs to be.

“People who have had two doses of the Pfizer are very unlikely to end up hospitalised, very unlikely to end up in ICU, and very few deaths are associated with people who have been fully vaccinated,” he says. 

Even though the Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been halted for 48 hours, Jansen believes the vaccine programme should resume as soon as possible and that healthcare teams will be able to vaccinate patients and whanau safely during an outbreak. 

While people with respiratory symptoms who may have Covid-19 are treated adequately in a safe environment, Jansen says that clinicians may also need to focus on topics that aren't related to Covid, such as childhood immunisations, HPV and measles vaccinations.

“It has to be safe for our whānau to be vaccinated and primary care knows how to do that and I know all of the big vaccination centres across Auckland and Waikato and all around the country know how to do that safely.”

Anti-vaxxers and vaccine-resistant

Jansen says that there will definitely be whānau members, which is about 4% of the population, who don’t want to be vaccinated, and says, “I get that, you know they are still our whānau, they're still part of our community. We don't have to demonise them.” 

"We need to go out to everyone else, to make the vaccination easier for them, to make it accessible, to make it available, and to answer their questions," he says.

“We do need a health system that actually listens to that, and answers honestly for those people so that they can make a good decision for themselves. That’s important.”

Jansen advocates testing new vaccinations where it makes sense, and he's keen to see that the Astrazeneca dose followed by a Pfizer dose gives good protection and has a long-lasting effect in other countries.

“Over time. we might be in a place to have better science, about how to protect ourselves from the other variants that will happen. I think that's important, We should be part of that kind of work internationally.”