Covid-19: Not prioritising vaccine rollout plan by ethnicity is unfair, experts say

An indigenous health expert is calling the government's vaccine roll-out plan unfair to Mori and Pasifika, who are at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.
University of Auckland senior health lecturer, Rhys Jones (Ngti Kahungunu), criticised the governments vaccine plan, which prioritised by age and those with pre-existing conditions.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Wednesday that the vaccine rollout from May will be carved into two groups people over 65 years old and those with health conditions in south Auckland and the rest of the country, and the general population.

Two health experts have criticised the governments vaccine plan. (File photo)

Another health expert, Shaun Hendy, who played a pivotal role in New Zealand's Covid-19 response by mapping, said its not too late for government to re-think its plan and prioritise Mori and Pasifika.

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Jones said to prioritise by age, when its been proven that the life expectancy of Mori and Pasifika is less than Pkeha, is racist.

A public health expert says the Government should be giving the Covid-19 vaccine to all adults in South Auckland sooner than it's planning to do.

The way the priority of population has been defined is extremely inequitable, it doesnt take into account the risks of different ethnic groups, Jones said.

And if youre talking about older people, predominantly Mori and Pasifika are less likely to reach that age, which means it privileges only the Pkeha population.

Dr Rhys Jones said it is wrong to prioritise by age, when its been proven that the life expectancy of Mori and Pasifika is less than Pkeha.

Census 2018 statistics revealed that Pacific and Mori ethnic group populations were much younger than the European ethnic group population.

The median age for Pasifika was 23.4 years and 25.4 years for Mori. It was 41.4 years for European.

The 65 years age-eligibility would mean almost 20 per cent of Pkeha will be offered the vaccine, compared to less than six per cent of Mori and Pasifika.

Jones said government must have received advice to consider an option that was ethnic-specific, which factored in different age cut-offs that reflected these differences.

But they have chosen not to go with those options, for whatever reason, because often policies and intervention perceived as ethnic-specific may not be acceptable to many in the general population.

They have chosen to ignore it, and made a decision that is politically expedient.

Hendy, who offered advice to the government on the rollout plan, said he was frustrated that Mori and Pacific people werent prioritised.

He said he understood there may be some logistical issues, like the distribution of vaccine in rural areas, but studies have proven these two ethnic groups are most at risk.

A recent study found Mori and Pacific people were more likely to be hospitalised for Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions, and at risk of getting the virus because of overcrowded and poor housing conditions.

Government had until May to make these adjustments and shouldnt wait until then, or another coronavirus outbreak, to make this happen, he said.

There are opportunities to adjust their scheduling and re-programme it. It is not too late, there is flexibility in the rollout framework to reconsider prioritisation, Hendy said.

The Ministry of Health was approached for comment.


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