Covid-19 Delta: Minister at odds with Bloomfield over refusal to release Māori data

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has voiced frustration at the country’s top health official over a refusal to release Māori health data to accelerate the vaccination rollout.

“Dr Bloomfield does what Dr Bloomfield does,” a visibly frustrated Jackson told media.

Jackson was referring to director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health’s refusal to hand over detailed health data to Whānau Ora to help it reach out to Māori who have not yet been vaccinated against Covid-19.

It comes amid a race to boost vaccination rates for Māori, who are 21 per cent behind the overall rate – due to a range of issues including poor access and older age focus of the rollout – and make up the majority of cases in the current outbreak.

The High Court ordered the ministry to reconsider its decision, on November 1, in a judgment which it said the process had “a lack of rigour” and did not “adequately consider Te Tiriti (Treaty of Waitangi) and its principles, as informed by tikanga”.

But on Friday night director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield contacted the agency to say the ministry had reviewed its earlier decision and would not be releasing the information.

Instead, the ministry invited Whānau Ora to work in partnership with it, along with relevant iwi and local service providers, to identify areas where vaccination for Māori is most needed and what data sharing is “necessary and appropriate”.

Jackson last week called on the ministry to immediately release the data – and repeated his call again today.

Jackson said, as Māori Development Minister, he’d met with Bloomfield to voice to his concerns.

“I’ve made it very clear and I am disappointed that it hasn’t happened.

“I’ve talked to Dr Bloomfield, and obviously you know what he said.

“But I’ve given him my view. They should be given the information, but Dr Bloomfield does what Dr Bloomfield does.”

Whānau Ora chief executive John Tamihere said they would be going back to court to get to the data.

Jackson said this outcome was disappointing.

“I couldn’t be more disappointed they’re going back to court. [John Tamihere] has the majority, 95 per cent, support of Māori, just Ngāi Tahu and one or two others against it.

“We’re in an emergency situation and Whānau Ora should be given that information.”

Tamihere, who is in the Far North as part of the Whānau Ora team boosting vaccinations in the area, told Māori TV without the data they were on a “fishing expedition” trying to find those unvaccinated.

“It can’t be about privacy because the judge knocked that down. It can’t be about capacity – you can see it here and it can’t be about bullying our people.

“We’re scrambling while others are through the eye of the needle.”

Tamihere says he will be heading back to the High Court because the ministry will block Whānau Ora from getting data for vaccinating the under 12s and the booster shots.

Tamihere said the fact such a large number of Māori are under 12 means it has to happen.

“We’ve sent a letter to the Ministry of Health and we’ve said we’re willing to work with it on this, but it hasn’t come back to us yet, it’s incredible. In the middle of a pandemic like this we need that data,” he said.

On Monday Bloomfield told media the refusal was based on some iwi not wanting that data shared – including Ngāi Tahu, and others which he refused to name.

Bloomfield said the ministry had offered to work with Whānau Ora and other providers seeking data.

With Whānau Ora they were starting in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and Kirikiriroa (Hamilton).

Already “very small area meshblock level data” was being provided for a range of Māori and non-Māori providers, he said.

The Government has come under heavy criticism for the structure of its vaccination rollout, which implicitly disadvantaged Māori due to its focus on older age groups and those working in essential services.

This was despite expert advice Māori be prioritised, given the younger age profile, known health inequities and access issues.

Currently 58 per cent of Māori eligible (aged over 12) have been fully vaccinated compared with the overall rate of 79 per cent.

The gap has been slowly closing however as since the rollout opened up to younger age groups Māori have been getting vaccinated at a rate higher than any other ethnicity.

Māori currently make up the highest proportion of cases in the latest outbreak, 38 per cent, with 1809 of the 4813 cases.

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