Is the vaccine rollout working out?

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The government is gearing up to move into the next stage of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan.

However, questions remain over the government's plan and come after reports of frontline workers going for months without a test.

At the next stage, 1.7 million people will have access to the vaccine but, even without counting the vaccine-hesitant and the sceptics, questions still remain as to whether the vaccine is reaching the people who need it most. 

Group 3 of the rollout plan includes "people who are at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19" who are categorised as: people aged 65 or older; disabled people; pregnant women n(any trimester); have a relevant underlying health condition; people living in custodial settings; underlying health conditions such as serious and chronic respiratory conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney/renal disease, diabetes, coronary heart conditions, strokes,  hypertension (high blood pressure) and cancer, excluding basal and squamous skin cancers if not invasive.

The third group includes residents in residential homes. However, with Māori only making up 4% of those numbers, where do Māori sit on the priority list? 

Priorities

The government announced a fund to support a Māori vaccine rollout plan and at that time Māori Health Minister Peeni Henare said older Māori and Pacific people were more likely to live with whānau than in an aged care facility.

"This is why from this month we are allocating 40,000 vaccine courses to Māori and Pacific health providers to target vaccinations within the communities they service to reach these people."

 So far 232,000 vaccine doses have been administered. A total of 172,564 people have had first jabs, and about 60,024 have had both.

A statement from a Ministry of Health spokesperson said ensuring equal access to free Covid-19 vaccines was a priority for New Zealand, and border workers, MIQ and front-line healthcare workers remained a priority for vaccination.

The exact number of people in group 1 (the border, managed isolation workforce and the people they live with) fluctuates between district health boards, as more border workers are recruited by employers and vaccinated against Covid-19 because of their roles.

The Ministry of Business says over 95% of the managed isolation and quarantine hotels workforce have received at least their first dose.

Earlier this month, the government issued guidance and next steps for workers who remained unable or unwilling to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

From  April, if a border or managed isolation worker is not vaccinated, their employers will need to consider alternative options for them. From May 1, those not vaccinated will be moved to lower-risk roles.

The government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccines for all New Zealanders this year, and the ministry is working with district health boards on ways they can enhance their Covid-19 vaccine rollout plans.

Te Ao Māori News has been told regular testing is not happening at some locations, such as the Port of Tauranga, which employs about 250 people.

A port spokesperson said the company had "no visibility" over the number of port workers who had been vaccinated but the local district health board should be able to give Te Ao the numbers.

"With regard to testing, it is compulsory to use the government's border testing register, which currently shows 100% compliance for Port of Tauranga employees."

In response to whether the government should intervene, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall responded, saying: "If you provide us with the details of those people, we'll look at it immediately."