The latest Covid-19 outbreak has the potential to devastate not only our whānau, but also our whakapapa if we allow it.
To minimise Covid-19's effect on us as a people, we all have to act.
Every Māori vaccinated reduces the chance that the virus will kill one of us. This is an issue not only for us but for those who follow us.
The Government is moving from elimination to suppression and the more infectious Delta variant is here to stay.
The virus will escape Auckland and we must be ready. Vaccination is our single best
defence and we must do all in our power to ensure that vaccination levels are as high as they can be among Māori.
If we do not, our people will die. We will die at a much higher rate than Pākehā. Our younger people might not die, but they will get sick and have a high chance of getting long Covid - a terrible and debilitating disease.
Critically, younger people will pass Covid-19 on to their kaumātua, kuia, aunties and uncles. They will get very sick and might die if not vaccinated.
They will die because our people suffer more than Pākehā from the types of diseases that make them more vulnerable, such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease.
Our people also suffer from the diseases of poverty, of low income, of substandard housing.
For those of our people with those other diseases, or those of us waiting for elective surgery, you will be waiting so much longer as our health sector resources will be focused on the pandemic, so people will die because they cannot get timely treatment.
Look at the 1918 flu pandemic. Between October and November 1918, 2160 Māori died (a rate of 42.3 per 1000 compared with the Pākehā rate of 5.5 per 1000).
We can see the consequences of that pandemic in urupā throughout the motu. The difference in 2021 is that we do have a way to protect ourselves.
Our current rates of vaccination within the Lakes DHB area is too low, despite the impressive work going on the frontlines.
We can point finger at the Government for its lack of a Māori-specific strategy for vaccination, but none of this is helpful now. We just have to do what it takes to protect our people from this virus and we all have a role to play.
I am Māori and a doctor. I know the vaccine is safe and effective and our best tool to protect our people. But I accept that there are many reasons why my opinion is not going to move those Māori who are vaccine-hesitant.
Therefore, Government must do more to explore and fund all possible methods to increase our vaccination rates.
Media campaigns, nationally and locally, encouraging our people to get vaccinated must involve people they relate to - sports stars, famous Māori faces, people they trust.
The challenge is also personal. As my friend and colleague Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen says, we must put on our tino rangatiratanga pants and accept the responsibility to care for ourselves and our own.
Where our whānaungaare are hesitant or uncertain, we must help them to find a trusted health practitioner to go through the evidence with them. Where they have transport or child care issues, we can help or reach out to one of the Māori providers or the DHB for advice and assistance.
Covid-19 deniers and anti-vaccination supporters should be ignored and given no public media time.
It is they who should suffer the effects of social exclusion and coercion not the rest of us.
I welcome the announcement of mandated vaccination for certain workers and vaccine passports, which are but a few of such measures that have worked elsewhere. I support whatever incentives it takes to get people vaccinated: kai, giveaways, lotteries.
We must get to, inform and support vaccine-hesitant Māori, make the vaccine available to them at their doorstep and motivate them to have both jabs.
Lastly, I want to shout out to all of the amazing work that frontline workers and service providers are doing, playing catch up with Māori vaccination here in Rotorua and around the motu.
But make no mistake – this mate urutā is our 100-year event!
E hara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini – success is not the work of one but of many.
Dr Rees Tapsell is Ngāti Whakaue and Raukawa. He is currently clinical director of mental health and addictions at Waikato District Health Board and a board member of the Lakes District Health Board. He was born and brought up in Rotorua.