The shift in vaccine attitudes

By Stuff reporter

The Whole Truth: Covid-19 Vaccination | By Stuff reporter Charlie Mitchell

It’s often reported Māori are more concerned than other ethnic groups about getting the Covid-19 vaccine. 

But it’s difficult to say for sure because being undecided is not static - it changes week by week, month by month.

In any case, being uncertain is not always a negative. It can reflect a desire for more information, or general mistrust towards authorities because of systemic inequalities in the health system, which have disadvantaged Māori and Pasifika. 

But given the particular risks Covid-19 poses to Māori and Pasifika, building confidence in the vaccine among these groups is a priority for officials and public health experts.

So, why do we think these groups may be more tentative?

Our main source of evidence is survey data. Over the past six months, regular surveys have tried to figure out how the New Zealand public feels about the vaccine.

Generally speaking, the surveys show Māori are slightly less likely to say they’ll get the vaccine than other groups. This has been consistent across every survey, to varying degrees. 

The gap is not huge, but it is statistically significant. It is less clear for Pasifika, with big changes between surveys.

The most recent data, collected in late April and early May, is promising. 

It shows around 29 percent of Māori are either unsure or unlikely to get the vaccine (compared to 23 percent for Pākehā). It may sound high, but it has gone down a lot (in March, the figure was 36 percent for Māori).

The same survey showed around 3 percent of Māori respondents had refused a vaccine, which is about 13 percent of Māori who had been offered one. It’s too early to say, but that suggests at least some tentative people are changing their minds and getting the vaccine when it's offered.

Vaccination rates have been declining nationally in recent years, but the gap between Māori and other groups is closing (Pasifika generally have high immunisation rates). 

One reason for the decline is decreasing confidence in vaccines. That is, in part, being driven by Pākehā. Areas with the highest vaccination refusal rates (largely in the Coromandel and Golden Bay) also have high proportions of Pākehā. 

In contrast, some of the places where vaccination rates haven't dropped as much are in ethnically diverse health board areas such as Counties Manukau and Capital & Coast. 

There are exceptions. Some predominantly Māori communities, particularly in Northland, have high vaccine refusal rates, which is likely bringing down overall vaccination rates among Māori. 

But Northland’s population overall says it is likely to get the vaccine at a higher rate than the country as a whole. 

What does all this mean? The immunisation gap has been narrowing over time through outreach to Māori and Pasifika, particularly by trusted experts such as doctors and other healthcare providers.

Survey data about the Covid-19 vaccine suggests a similar trajectory. Māori - as with other groups - want more information from sources they trust, which is a reasonable expectation.

Reporting disclosure statement: This post was reviewed by The Whole Truth: Covid-19 Vaccination expert panel members Dr. Apisalome Talemaitoga and Dr. Rawiri Jansen.