Covid 19 coronavirus: Top Māori medical expert Dr Rawiri Jansen quits Government immunisation group

Top Māori GP Dr Rawiri Jansen has quit the Government’s expert immunisation advisory group over concerns around the vaccine rollout, saying he felt his voice wasn’t being heard.

His resignation comes days after Jansen told the Herald he considered it an “overwhelming failure” on his part and the Government’s that the vaccine rollout did not prioritise Māori below 65 years of age.

Members of the Māori pandemic group, Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, which Jansen co-chairs, have previously criticised the Government for treating Māori as an afterthought in its Covid-19 response.

A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last September said Māori were 50 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19 than non-Māori.

In January, Jansen voiced expectations that Māori under 65 years of age would be included in the vaccine priority groups, given the poor health outcomes experienced by Māori at an earlier age than Pākehā.

While the rollout’s second vaccination priority group included older Māori and Pacific people cared for by their whānau and the carers themselves, there is no mention of the priority group Jansen expected – much to his frustration.

Speaking to Radio Waatea Jansen said he was particularly frustrated by the Government’s refusal to adopt an age adjuster, so Māori could be included in the high-risk elderly group at 50 or 55 rather than 65.

“The work we are doing on the advisory group wasn’t influential enough so if it’s not working the advice could be me and the advice I am giving, that’s possible, or it could be the advice is going to the wrong place, and part of me is like, ‘whatever, if it’s not working, get out of the way,'” he told the radio station.

While the Government said Māori health providers would have the discretion to vaccinate people earlier if they had underlying health conditions, Jansen said most Māori relied on mainstream services.

Jansen previously told the Herald the process gave him an “overwhelming sense of failure”.

“It’s going to lead to a grossly inequitable vaccination programme because we didn’t follow the science, the proof of that will take some time.”

Jansen, of Ngāti Raukawa, predicted Māori would be at more risk of dying if the virus mutated and older whānau were not appropriately vaccinated.

Jansen also took aim at the Government for what he claimed was a decision based on optics rather than science.

“I think the political decision was influenced by non-health, non-science actors.

“We should not be running this based on a communications expert’s view of acceptability, that’s a complete failure of leadership in my view.”

He urged the likes of director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to review the rollout’s priority groups to include at-risk Māori.

Te Ropu Smith is the chief executive of the Māori health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi in Kaikohe, Northland – where up to 80 per cent of the population is Māori.

She previously told the Herald she agreed with Jansen’s expectation that Māori over the age of 45 should be given vaccine priority and noted such measures addressing Māori health were being considered after the fact.

“It’s too much of an afterthought,” she said.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said previously people who were at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19 – many of whom were Māori – would start to receive the vaccine from next month.

The spokesperson outlined the $39 million investment for the Māori Covid-19 vaccine and immunisation approach, the majority of which would be spent developing vaccine support services to ensure whānau could easily navigate and access vaccination services.

The ministry has been approached for further comment over Jansen’s resignation.

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