Teuila Fuatai: Pākehā privilege in way of jabs equity

OPINION:

Some actions never fail to highlight the ugliness and immaturity of parts of New Zealand.

On Monday, Act leader David Seymour publicly released a booking vaccination code intended for whānau Māori via social media. The code, from Te Whānau o Waipareira — a Māori health and social services provider in West Auckland — is one of the tools used to prioritise Māori in the vaccine rollout.

If you read the message which contains the code, it does this by emphasising four main things.

First, it specifically addresses whānau Māori. Second, it says having the code means no appointment is necessary for a vaccination, therefore coming unannounced is fine. Third, it states you can do this between 8.30 am and 3.30 pm, any day of the week. And fourth, it encourages families and/or households to come together so everyone eligible (over 12) can be vaccinated in one go.

The purpose of such initiatives is to make up for the vaccination gap, which translates directly to certain groups being better protected than others from Covid. Like other health outcomes, the groups cut along ethnic lines.

Māori vaccination rates are the lowest in the country. Pasifika come in second worst. Pākehā and Asian have the highest rates. This, despite research showing Māori and Pasifika are more likely to be severely ill, hospitalised, and die from Covid-19 than other ethnicities. The research, published by the NZ Medical Journal a year ago, also estimated the risk of death from Covid for Māori was at least 50 per cent higher than Pākehā.

Unfortunately, after the initial wave of Covid in March last year — when the majority of clusters were linked to cases of overseas travellers — those statistics started to bear out. In the current outbreak, about 70 per cent of cases are Pasifika. Māori make up 7 per cent. On Friday, a 91-year-old kuia associated with Waipareira also died. She was the country’s first Delta death.

The outbreak from August last year also had a disproportionate number of cases who were Pasifika, including one death.

The statistics and research are not an anomaly. They’re in keeping with previous health events, like the 2009 influenza pandemic — where Māori had an infection rate twice that of Pākehā. Māori were also three times more likely than Pākehā to end up in hospital, and nearly three times more likely to die.

It’s also important to understand how they reflect what happens in a health system that essentially works against Māori, and Pasifika. A system which even in “peacetime” delivers outcomes like Māori men having a life expectancy of just 73, while their Pākehā or “other” counterparts come in at 81. And for Māori women, life expectancy is 77, while it’s 84.6 for Pākehā women. I don’t cite these figures lightly. But they’re important to say every time an eyebrow is raised around why they exist. Particularly in weeks like this where the undermining is from an MP.

They represent families and communities who continue to live in a New Zealand where their basic health rights aren’t upheld, and where efforts to address that are used as examples of biased treatment.

It’s also where our collective misunderstanding of equity, or rather inequity, gets highlighted. That is: We know the statistics and what the research says, but for places like Waipareira to specifically prioritise those groups highlighted in them is “unfair”.
Here, close attention is needed. Because descriptors like “unfair” or “biased” aren’t referring to those most likely to experience Covid harm and disruption.

Rather, it’s talking about everyone else — which as it turns out, are not Māori, or Pasifika.
To be clear, that’s the exact opposite of a pro-equity approach. It dismisses how systemic racism and marginalisation operates, and ultimately, in order to address it, those who are more advantaged and privileged need to give up space.

As Seymour says, targeting Māori through vaccine access codes shows the Government is “obsessed with racially categorising its citizens”.

Let’s be real — this already exists. Only it tends to swing in a direction which isn’t great for Māori on a number of fronts. And that overall, vaccine access codes are a relatively minor exercise in righting that.

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