Last weekend I was part of a team in Taranaki that stood up a mobile vaccination unit aimed specifically at lifting Māori vaccination rates.
On the roadside along the main route into South Taranaki we were set up, playing music, with giveaways, spot prizes, free kai - creating a vibe that was positive and most of all whānau-centric.
Our rates for Māori are lagging way behind the 67 per cent fully vaccinated national average, with a mere 30 per cent of Māori having received two doses.
Those on the ground know our individual communities best. To get uptake and engagement we needed to create a safe, non-judgmental environment that showed manaaki for those who made their mind up and those still unsure.
By creating a vax'n'yak space, those who wanted to be vaccinated could be, whilst those still unsure were able to kōrero, share their concerns, be educated, watch and socialise the process. Trusted community faces including kaumatua were present. It was a great day, and the start of many mobility pop-ups to come. But the work behind the scenes was a different story.
We had requested a vaccination campervan from Taranaki DHB, which previously offered to help assist and vaccinate our communities. Despite initially being agreed to, it was reneged for our dates requested. But only days after seeing our request for the campervan denied, the local newspaper published a photo of the Prime Minister visiting TDHB's vaccination campervan.
This only reiterates the fact that Māori have, from the outset, been victims of severe vaccination inequity, contributing to the very poor vaccination rates.
We'd even passed on our posters and social media posts for Taranaki DHB to share – they went unpublished. Personal protective equipment and vials all became too difficult to access. We'd asked for relief nurses, who didn't come.
So instead, we had to sort our own resourcing. We borrowed and retrofitted a holiday campervan into a vaccination one, we had personal vans out collecting whānau. We accessed nurses from our already stretched Māori provider clinics (who, by the way, service a 49 per cent non-Maori client list) and borrowed gazebos, chairs and tables.
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Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, the mayor and local businesses heard of our challenges and stepped up, providing kai and offering to pick up whānau. It was extremely humbling, but frustrating as heck.
On the one hand, Māori are being told we are holding the country to ransom and delaying the ease of restrictions - on the other, when we try to take control, we are being held back by the very systems that create inequities in health.
Centralisation does not work when trying to mobilise a vaccination response effort, especially in some of the hardest to reach communities.
When considering our population profile, 70 per cent of Māori are under the age of 40 and 20 per cent under 20 years old. This is not a cohort that purchases newspapers or finds their information in older-population-targeted media. So, the importance of having initiatives fronted by their own age group and community cannot be advocated for enough.
A collective of Māori health experts are so concerned with the low vaccination rates and rising cases that they have asked for a circuit breaker. Te Whānau o Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere has said this "paints the picture of Māori as acceptable collateral damage".
He has gone so far in the fight for equity that he has taken the Crown to court. Even epidemiologists, who once stood side by side offering their support, are critical of the Government's approach.
It's concerning watching the Government clumsily struggle with this phase of their Covid response. We as a party in the past have been very supportive of the "health" response, but are struggling with this new approach putting politics before oranga, especially in the sense of equity.
We have consistently asked the Government to share the power with those most affected. To empower an approach from the ground up which has been constantly refused. At this eleventh hour we are still asking – what is this Government's Māori Covid strategy?
It's great having high-vibe marketing events like Super Saturday. But when most of those in lockdown are struggling to cope and regions cannot get the basic vaccination efforts mobilised, surely the Government must realise that they need to invest and provide the resourcing to meet the hype and outcomes of the event.
This is a Government that has rightfully accepted there are health failures for Māori, even endorsing a Māori Health Authority. So, what's stopping them from adopting these lessons into today's and future responses?