National | Dr Rawiri Taonui

Māori second-highest daily cases; 300,000+ Māori unvaccinated

Kura kaupapa Māori must consider returning to online learning to buy more time to lift vaccinations.

That’s because opening the schools at the beginning of February was a mistake.

The government has ignored calls to vaccinate in schools based on potentially fuelling protests.

While that is a consideration, the government has also ignored initiatives in other countries to place safe zones around schools barring antivaxx protests.

Māori vaccinations are behind on all vaccination indices. The gaps for total, booster and tamariki vaccinations are closing but only incrementally as community providers concentrate on supporting those isolating at home.

Second-highest number

Māori had the second-highest number of cases on Sunday for the first time during the Omicron outbreak.

Of the four main ethnicities, Māori had the fastest declining daily cases through December and the lowest daily numbers through January. But, over the past week, the gap to other ethnicities has steadily reduced as Māori cases rise.

The key drivers of rising Māori cases are lower across the board vaccinations and spread into the Māori community because of tamariki returning to school. The government decision to re-open schools in early February before the 5-11yrs vaccination rollout had gained traction was clearly too early.

Māori case numbers are likely much higher with anecdotal evidence that many are not conducting testing or reporting positive RATs test results because they cannot afford to isolate themselves at home and not go to work.

Māori data by DHBs

The following table compares Māori vaccinations rates by district health board (DHB) (March 6 data) with the number and percentage of active Māori cases in the DHB (March 2 data).

The data sets are four days apart. However, the clear trend is that the higher the percentage Māori vaccination rate, the lower the percentage of Māori cases in the DHB. For example, total Māori vaccinations in the Auckland DHB are 90.6%; Māori in the Auckland DHB are 9.1% of active cases. The Māori vaccination rate in Te Tai Rāwhiti is 81.9%; Māori in te Tai Rāwhiti are 52.2% of all active cases.

This pattern crosses all DHBs, with the 10 to 12 lowest DHBs for vaccination also the 10 to 12 highest DHBs for Māori cases. Māori must continue to push vaccination.

There were 15,161 cases on Sunday. This is the third day in a row that new cases have declined since the record of 23,183 on March 3. However, it is too early to conclude that New Zealand has passed the peak of the Omicron outbreak. Case numbers are expected to vary related to the introduction of rapid antigen tests (RATs).

When first introduced, RATs caused a rapid increase with cases doubling every day for three days as the more flexible testing kits picked up cases in the community the slower PCR regime had missed. There is reason to believe the current decline in official numbers may be due to a slowdown in the testing and self-reporting of RATs.

Pākehā have had the highest number of new daily cases and active cases for 12 consecutive days. Pākehā also have the most active cases.

Active cases are concentrated in the region between Auckland, Waikato, and the Bay of Plenty.

Hospitalisations and ICU

The number of hospitalisations and ICU cases are key indicators of whether Omicron has peaked.

Hospitalisations continue to rise sharply. This tends to indicate Aotearoa has not reached the peak of the Omicron outbreak.

Whole-of-population vaccination

There is a need to shift to a whole-of-population approach. A whole-of-population vaccination measure is what most counts with a hyper-transmissible Omicron. The many measures across vaccination for 12yrs+, 18yrs+ and under-12yrs also make vaccination data complex and difficult to understand.

Employing a whole-of-population vaccination measure will overcome the problem of the undercount of Māori and other ethnicities in the Ministry of Health HSU Index (Health Service User).

The HSU counts those who used the health system in 2020. This does not include those who did not use the system either because they did not trust the health system or could not afford to do so. My previous analysis has shown that the HSU undercounts the 12yrs+ Māori by at least 45,000 and the tamariki Māori population by 6,000.

Applying the NZ Statistics Estimated Resident Population (NZERP, 2021), the most accurate measure of the current New Zealand population will overcome the HSU issue while providing a more accurate count of total vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

The current data shows 4,066,046 12yrs+ vaccinations and 248,911 5-11yrs vaccinations. Converting these numbers into the NZERP (2021), which has counted 5,126,300 New Zealanders, shows that overall vaccinations are 84.2% of the population meaning that there are 811,343 unvaccinated New Zealanders.

Similarly, converting the 520,051 12yrs+ and 37,734 5-11yrs Māori vaccination to the NZERP (2021) shows that the overall percentage of Māori vaccinations is 63.6% meaning that there are 318,815 unvaccinated Māori.

This exceptionally low figure reflects the 10% to 20% vaccine resistance in some of our communities and that over 200,000 of our population is under-12yrs.

Under-vaccination is our main point of vulnerability. With our tamariki at school, a testing regime relying on self-recognisance and a more open border, we can expect Māori cases to continue to increase.

Noho haumaru, stay safe.

Dr Rawiri Taonui.