Young Māori and others nervous or reluctant about getting vaccinated have been the focus of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to Rotorua as part of New Zealand's "game-changer" response to Covid-19.
Meeting with local iwi and hapū, health providers and community leaders, Ardern hoped to learn what was working well and where the Government could help them further.
Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post during her visit on Thursday, Ardern said she was encouraged by the work of local providers, which had "made a difference to whānau".
"Working out of Wellington is not the way we're going to reach into those individual communities, it will be whānau and providers who know their communities best who will have the best chance to reach them."
Ardern was joined by list MP Tāmati Coffey, Associate Minister of Health (Māori Health) Peeni Henare and MP for East Coast Kiri Allan.
The Prime Minister briefly met with staff from Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao Trust, many of whom work at the Te Arawa Covid-19 drive-through vaccination centre.
Staff said the drive-through centre had a lot of benefits for people nervous about the vaccine, including being able to have a support group in the vehicle alongside them.
As of midday on Thursday, Ardern said 69 per cent of the Rotorua population had received their first Covid-19 vaccination and 45 per cent were fully vaccinated. Within the Māori population, 52 per cent had received their first vaccination and just 31 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Asked whether Māori should have been prioritised early in the vaccination rollout, Ardern defended the Government's decision to target other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with other illnesses.
Ardern said one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand was reluctance from members of some smaller communities about the vaccine.
"There is nothing more important in our battle against Covid than our vaccination rollout. It's an absolute game-changer in terms of keeping our people safe," she said.
"[It's about] making sure that everyone is carrying their own individual armour and that's what the vaccine provides against Covid.
"I know there is a lot of misinformation but there is also a lot of knowledgeable trusted members of our community there to share the message that the vaccine is actually safe."
Ardern said despite the changing alert level settings in Auckland, the Government wasn't complacent about the virus.
"We're taking the same approach we took on day one. In the meantime, we also need to make sure that we are focusing on all communities and their vaccination programmes and making sure they're supported."
Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao Trust general practitioner Dr Grace Malcolm said Ardern's visit would have been a boost to staff morale as it "gives us the energy and impetus to go harder".
She also said the act of heading out to rural communities was "really important" and would be "hugely" beneficial.
While more senior age groups had higher vaccination rates, Māori between 20 and 34 years old had the worst numbers nationally and within the Lakes DHB.
Malcolm said it wasn't an issue about people being anti-vax or anti-immunisation, it was that they didn't have the right information or enough of it.
"With anybody, it's about a [talk] face to face," she said. "It could be a Zoom call or over social media but it's always better to do the face to face.
"The biggest issue is how do we get in front of people who are hesitating."
Malcolm hoped Ardern's North Island visits would help encourage the message the vaccine was safe.
Henare said young Maori were a particular target "we know we want to get".
About 9.30am, Henare visited the Te Arawa Covid-19 Vaccination Hub in Central Mall and said it'd been one of the biggest he had visited.
Earlier, he met with hub iwi leaders and health providers about the Māori vaccination program.
The response hub was formed during the lockdown last year to combine resources and provide support to whānau across Rotorua and the wider rohe.
It includes more than 60 hapū, trusts, health providers and organisations, and its recent focus has been centred on improving Māori vaccination numbers.
Hub chairman Monty Morrison said Māori were over-represented in poor health outcome statistics.
"It's our priority to protect our whānau from Covid-19," he said.
"We know people may be anxious about the vaccine and have questions, and we say to them: we are here to help – lean on us, hoea te waka ki uta ra."