A Covid-19 vaccine information booklet using Māori faces on cartoon virus figures has been immediately withdrawn from circulation after it was deemed racist.
The race relations commissioner today slammed it as "culturally ignorant" and "racism to the core" and an investigation has been launched after the publicity material, "Let's Give Covid-19 The Boot", was issued by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board and its public health arm, Toi Te Ora Tauranga.
It provides information about the Pfizer vaccination with the Covid-19 virus portrayed as Māori.
But the imagery has sparked an uproar with a Government MP weighing in, citing the use of the mataora on the Covid virus as disrespectful and sending "weird" signals.
Commissioner Meng Foon today said it was a degradation of mataora which was tapu. He also questioned if the board's cultural advisory unit was ever involved in vetting the material.
"This is racism to the core of depicting mataora and Māori as the Covid-19 virus at its lowest.
"It is culturally ignorant and culturally insensitive."
Rotorua-based MP Tamati Coffey last night described the booklet as "wrong on so many levels" saying it could be seen as racist.
"The BOPDHB have a runanga that I'm sure wouldn't endorse this image. And a high Māori population that would be outright offended," he posted.
He said he was deeply concerned that this publication was going out into a community with a high Māori population.
"The cultural inappropriateness of using mataora on things like Covid viruses and the front cover of a farmer wearing red bands actually putting the physical boot into this Māori head on so many levels was inappropriate and wrong."
He claimed the board chairwoman Sharon Shea was equally as baffled when she saw it.
He said Ngati Awa, an iwi that advises the health board, was also concerned when they saw it earlier in the week.
"There's enough Covid hesitancy in our Māori communities that we don't need images like this to undo the good work that the Ministry of Health have been committed to from the start of this whole pandemic."
Last night the health board's chief executive Pete Chandler issued an apology saying there was no way the imagery should have been used.
He said how the leaflet came to be published would be investigated and he would now be personally approving releases.
"As CEO of the DHB I am absolutely appalled by the imagery and I can assure you there is no way this should have passed DHB approval," Chandler wrote in a Facebook post.
"We are investigating and do need to confirm the facts but for now I can confirm that this leaflet has been fully withdrawn from circulation and I will personally be approving all communications releases heron.
"I apologise on behalf of the DHB for the significant offence and hurt that this will have caused. It is totally unacceptable to us."