Why wait? Give border workers the jab now - Dr Shane Reti

By Will Trafford

National deputy leader and GP Dr Shane Reti is unhappy that Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins has just got around to ordering all border workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine and that he's given them up to two months to get it.

Yesterday Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the expansion of a public health order that will require the remaining 1766 government border workers to be vaccinated by August 26 and non-government workers by September 30.

"That's nearly two and a half months away," Reti said  "Why is this not tomorrow? Where's the urgency?"

"A few weeks ago we knew 3800 at the airport had been unvaccinated. We thought things would be rapidly taken in hand. This is one of our key entryways for an outbreak and we still have unvaccinated people, " Reti said.

Reti also said Māori Covid-19 vaccinations should be 10-30% higher than the general population before borders reopen

Talking to Te Ao Māori News, Reti said most other countries have set a herd immunisation threshold of 70%.

Burned by Kiwibuild?

"That should be our figure too," he said.

But Māori are 50% more likely to die of Covid-19 and Reti argued the Ministry of Health's Māori vaccination target should be between 77 and 91 per cent.

He attacked the government for not setting targets.

"They're staying shy of targets. I think they've been burned by Kiwibuild."

Reti said leaders had to take risks and make decisions "whether they're uncomfortable or not."

Māori make up 16 per cent of the population, yet Reti says rates of those already vaccinated are far below that.

Targets may have to rise

"We know we [Māori] are only at 10 to 12% of those vaccinated. There's a lot of work to be done there".

The government has put $39 million toward a targeted Māori Covid-19 vaccination strategy and gave 40,000 courses of the vaccine to Māori and Pacific health providers across the country.

The programme prioritises the elderly and those with underlying health conditions but health leaders, such as Dr Rawiri Taonui, say the government should prioritise Māori regardless of age, as has happened with indigenous programmes in Canada and Australia. 

Taonui called the government's Māori vaccination rate a 'failure' in June.

National's deputy leader concedes highly contagious new Covid-19 strains such as the Delta variant might mean vaccination targets may need to be raised as high as 95%.

"Let's get that 70% and then look to progress from there... We can be more permissive at our border when we've got a better vaccination rate than the bottom of the OECD." he said.