The Government's new 90 per cent target for Covid-19 vaccinations - which the PM has promised will allow for fewer lockdown restrictions - has specifically not included a separate target for Māori so as not to "vilify" any groups that might be lagging, MP Peeni Henari said today.
But it is time to draw a line in the sand, and if Northland's rate doesn't pick up the region should expect to have less freedoms going forward, the Associate Minister of Health warned.
Northland has been slower than the national average to get the vaccination. Nationwide, 86 per cent of people have had at least one dose. Among all eligible Māori across New Zealand, however, 68 per cent have had at least one jab and in Northland, the rate of eligible Māori with at least one dose is 64 per cent.
"That is disappointing and I've expressed my frustration over a number of weeks now," Henare told current affairs programme Newshub Nation. "We know we've got a challenge in front of us, but I'm certainly not going to give up ... in making sure our whānau can receive the vaccine.
"This is a marathon, but we're in a sprint period now and we want to give it absolutely everything."
New funding to reach vulnerable communities should help, Henare said, but it will take time to convince people who are reluctant or sitting on the fence.
Henare acknowledged that many community leaders wanted to see a vaccination rate of 90 per cent achieved among Māori - not just the general population - before the nation moves to the less restrictive traffic light system. Given current projections, about 50 per cent of Māori - when including non-eligible children - would be unvaccinated by the time the nation hits the 90 per cent target, Newshub Nation host Simon Shepherd pointed out.
"For a while now, a number of them have been asking us to set a target," Henare said. "What we knew was if we do that too early, people turn against those who haven't been vaccinated yet. And that's why we didn't want to vilify those who were yet to be vaccinated.
"Yes, there are people who are anti-vax but there is still a large proportion of our community who are just hesitant, and if we vilify them I'm afraid we will have lost them in this challenge."
Henare said he is confident Cabinet's decision to focus on one general target won't stop the vaccination rate in Northland from lifting. But he also didn't disagree with the host that if a large portion of the Māori population stays unvaccinated, they could eventually become like second-class citizens as those with vaccinations receive more freedoms.
"That's the choice they're going to have to make," Henare said. "Our job is to make it available to everybody, but we ... have to draw a line in the sand at some point in time and look towards moving into the future.
"What we are sayings is, to give yourself and your community the most protection, we need you to be vaccinated. If you are not, then, of course, that means we've got to put in health restrictions to keep the rest of the community safe."
Asked if he had a message he wanted to share with the community, he said that vaccines are crucial.
"If you want to have a Christmas, if you want to have summer with your whānau, then we need you to get vaccinated," he said. "There has been months of information, months of community engagement. Now is the time."