As the percentage of Whanganui's population vaccinated against Covid-19 continues to grow, the region's Māori vaccination rate is struggling to keep up.
The DHB said 74.4 per cent of NZ European/Pākehā in its catchment had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as at last Thursday.
But only 48.5 per cent of Māori had received at least one dose, making Māori the worst-performing ethnic group when it came to Covid-19 vaccination.
The Whanganui DHB figure is also below the national average, with more than 50 per cent of Māori nationwide now having had at least one dose.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, the Māori Party co-leader based in Te Tai Hauāuru as well as a member of the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, said the government and DHBs had "dropped the ball" on Māori vaccination.
"It just goes to show that the government's plan hasn't worked for us," Ngarewa-Packer said.
She said there was clear evidence that Māori were more susceptible to the virus, which she believed the government didn't adequately consider when putting the vaccination rollout in place.
"The government took a one-size-fits-all approach with the vaccination group rollout. For example, 70 per cent of our Māori population are under 40, and they've only been eligible recently.
"Now we're in catch-up mode with our Māori health providers working like mad to narrow the gap. The reality is, had the government targeted Māori directly with resourcing Māori providers, we wouldn't be in the position we are now."
Ngarewa-Packer said one of the most fundamental things the government could do to boost Māori vaccination rates was to engage more meaningfully with Māori communities.
"There are communities who don't trust government messaging, and there are a high portion of Māori that don't trust authority.
"They keep calling it hesitancy, but I just think that it's relatability and a lack of connect."
There was also the whānau aspect of Māori life which wasn't being considered, Ngarewa-Packer said.
"The other thing is simply the nature of our community. For example in Whanganui, they're travelling an hour and a half from up the awa into town. You don't have a car and only have one day a week when you go into town."
"And then there's whānau. We go to tangi together, we go to hui together, we go to kura together. It's really important our whānau and providers have the ability to connect to do vaccination together.
"The initial rollout was very individual-based. Actually, a lot of our over-65 whānau don't go out into town on their own, for example."
Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, the Mātaiwhetū/chief executive of iwi-led health provider Te Oranganui, has previously said the drop-off in Māori vaccination was a concern, and that Te Oranganui was deploying a variety of strategies in an effort to boost uptake across the DHB rohe.
Walsh-Tapiata said that one of the best approaches was exploring different ways of getting vaccinations out into the community and to be more proactive with a range of different messaging.
DHB "stepping up efforts" to target Māori
A Whanganui DHB spokesman said in a statement the DHB had a pro-equity approach from the beginning, acknowledging the position of higher risk for Māori communities.
"It was also understood that some Māori communities might be hard to reach and that it would take time and perseverance to encourage and support whānau to be vaccinated.
"The rollout is a combined effort and the Whanganui District Health Board is working closely with its iwi health provider partners - Te Oranganui in Whanganui, Te Kotuku Hauora in Marton, Mokai Patea Services in Taihape and Ngā Waihua o Paerangi Trust in the Waimarino.
"These iwi providers have deep links with their communities and are able to reach those families that may have difficulty accessing vaccination clinics or may be unsure about getting vaccinated."
The DHB was continuing with targeted outreach clinics at places like marae, as well as smaller communities along the Whanganui River Road, in an effort to reach Māori communities, he said.
"These clinics will continue as we step up our efforts to take the vaccine to the people. With Waka Hauora, the Health Bus, now up and running there will be many more pop-up clinics.
"Over the next few weeks, the focus is on residential and rural areas such as Whanganui East, Castlecliff, Scotts Ferry and Turakina Beach. While clinics are set up in areas with significant Māori populations, all clinics are open to everyone aged 12 years and over."
Te Tai Hauāuru MP Adrian Rurawhe was contacted for comment.