Covid-19 analyst calls for Māori and Pasifika priority or risk ‘brown pandemic’

An Aotearoa New Zealand vaccination centre
An Aotearoa New Zealand vaccination centre ... call tp prioritise Māori and Pasifika children in the vaccination rollout. Image: Angus Dreaver/RNZ

By Moana Ellis, Local Democracy Reporter

A covid-19 Māori health analyst is calling on the New Zealand government to prioritise Māori and Pasifika children in the 5-11 years vaccine rollout or risk the consequences of a “brown pandemic”.

Dr Rāwiri Taonui says tamariki Māori make up 53.3 percent of all cases of those aged under 12 and 63 percent of all hospitalisations of under 12s.

According to Dr Taonui’s analysis, when Pasifika children are included, 82 percent of cases and 78.3 percent of hospitalisations of those under 12 have been Māori or Pasifika.

Local Democracy Reporting

Taonui has contributed to a Ministry of Health working group for vaccination of Māori aged 12 years and under.

He described the statistics as disturbing and said they reflect the higher disease burden on Māori in the current outbreak.

Omicron remained a serious risk for unvaccinated Māori and Pasifika, and the tamariki rollout should focus on equal outcomes with Pākehā, he said.

“Pacific and Māori peoples face similar prejudice. This is our brown pandemic.”

Dr Taonui said data emerging from overseas backed the need to prioritise Māori and Pasifika children in the vaccination rollout.

Rise in child infections
“Last week, the American Academy of Paediatrics reported a 50 percent rise to 199,000 child infections and a 66 percent rise to a record 400 child hospitalisations in one week at the end of December,” Dr Taonui said.

“The lesson [is that] a small percentage of severe young cases among an enormous number of mild omicron cases equals a serious number of cases among the young and vulnerable.

“Tamariki are the taonga in the future of our whakapapa. At 24.6 percent of our population, Māori communities will be concerned that our tamariki are 29.2 percent of all Māori cases,” Taonui said.

A new international study this month by the University of Auckland’s Professor Stuart Dalziel showed children are at risk of severe outcomes from covid-19.

Professor Dalziel said greater numbers of children were being infected and needing hospital treatment.

“There is a perception that covid-19 is only a very mild infection in children. Unfortunately, for some of these children, covid-19 results in severe disease,” Professor Dalziel said.

The study followed more than 10,300 children at 41 emergency departments in 10 countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

It found that more than 3200 children tested positive for covid-19. Of those, three percent experienced severe outcomes within two weeks, including cardiac or cardiovascular complications such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and neurological, respiratory or infectious problems.

Twenty-three percent were hospitalised and four children died.

More than 30,000 children’s doses have been given across the first three days of the vaccination rollout for children aged 5-11 years.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by Asia Pacific Report, RNZ the News Publishers’ Association and NZ On Air.

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