A Covid-19 vaccinator (Photo: Ministry of Health/Supplied)
A Covid-19 vaccinator (Photo: Ministry of Health/Supplied)

SocietySeptember 13, 2021

How Māori and Pasifika groups are taking the vaccine message to whānau and aiga

A Covid-19 vaccinator (Photo: Ministry of Health/Supplied)
A Covid-19 vaccinator (Photo: Ministry of Health/Supplied)

Across the country, Māori and Pasifika organisations are leading the conversation on Covid vaccines to keep our young people and communities safe, write Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft and Assistant Māori Children’s Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara.

We put up with lockdowns because we want all people in Aotearoa and their families to be safe from the ravages of Covid-19. Lockdowns may be blunt instruments, but they buy us time for the game-changer: vaccination of as many as possible, as soon as is practicable.

Vaccination makes a difference for us all. Young people are not exempt. Though many had thought otherwise, this lockdown has taught us that the delta variant is no respecter of the young. More than 60% of people infected in the current outbreak are under 30. Twelve are under 9 years old. Six are under one.

We also know that the shortcomings of our housing, health and welfare systems have contributed to driving health outcomes for Māori and Pasifika people lower than they are for Pākehā. And Covid-19 is simply making that worse.

So it’s heartening, if not surprising, to see the way a variety of Māori and Pasifika organisations and groups have stepped up to engage with Covid’s challenge. It’s not surprising because these organisations understand that a by-Māori for-Māori, by-Pasifika for-Pasifika approach addresses one of the key issues for many in these communities: generations of under-resourcing and neglect that have created mistrust of government services.

Without that trust it can be hard for whānau, aiga and families to talk through the issue of vaccination and conclude that it is safe and effective. This is especially difficult if there is misinformation in the air.

Now that everyone over 12 is eligible for vaccination we have the opportunity, and the duty, to have those conversations as whānau and aiga. To do that requires accessing whatever accurate information is necessary to help understand vaccination as nothing less than our responsibility – the care we owe our community.

The good news is that constructive initiatives driven from within Māori and Pasifika communities are making a significant contribution to enabling these conversations. Trusted national and community organisations are offering support and being heard. Just some examples:

  • In Dunedin last month leaders of the University of Otago Pacific Island Students Association worked in partnership with Ngāi Tahu health provider Te Kāika to provide a two-day vaccination clinic. Almost 1000 Māori and Pasifika young people received vaccinations on the first day alone.
  • Bubble Gum South Seas, a group of Pasifika young people in Auckland, noticed the negative effect lockdown was having on some of their peers. They began regularly checking in with people finding isolation hard. They’ve now broadened their scope to include food parcels and vaccination assistance.
  • Māori-led Mā Te Huruhuru Charitable Trust has been educating young people to make informed decisions about the Covid-19 vaccine. Over five consecutive weekends more than 150 young people attended the programme hosted at various marae throughout Tāmaki Makaurau.
  • The Ministry for Pacific Peoples has been hosting a roadshow and an online fono which anyone is welcome to join. Each provides participants with good information and accurate answers to their questions.
  • Karawhiua.nz is a website led by Te Puni Kōkiri and informed by iwi and Māori communications specialists. It provides trusted information about the Covid-19 vaccine and enables whānau to share their experiences and questions.

Stories like these are being replicated across the motu. They’re making Aotearoa safer. They’re the stories of trusted people providing accurate information, support, and access to vaccination. They’re stories about people acting to protect their communities and their future, not just for themselves, not just for their whānau and aiga, not just for their communities, but for us all.

And for all of our young people.

If we haven’t already done so, now is the time for all parents, whānau and aiga to support their young people by helping them understand the value of an effective and safe vaccine. Every young person over 12 in Aotearoa has a right to feel that support and to be able to trust the information they’re being given.

That support may give them confidence that their whānau, aiga or family is making good decisions on their behalf. Or it may mean they feel they can be confident making their own decisions. Whichever it is, it should give them confidence in a safer future.

Keep going!