Low vaccine uptake makes Delta more dangerous for Pasifika and Maori – expert


A Pacific health expert is advising the Pasifika and Maori community to heed lockdown advice and stay home after more cases of the Delta variant were confirmed on Wednesday in Auckland.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, associate professor of public health at the University of Auckland, said Pasifika and Māori were the most vulnerable to Covid-19 and the Delta variant was “no joke”.

He said people only had to look at the outbreak in Fiji and how one case turned into more than 40,000 cases in four months.

Fiji currently had more than 21,000 active cases and more than 400 deaths since the April outbreak of the Delta variant.

“The risk to Pasifika and Māori is very high, with housing, overcrowding, diabetes and other underlying health conditions,” Dr Tukuitonga said.

“This is the real deal, it’s serious, it’s highly infectious and more effective than the original strain. One case can infect up to nine people, that nine can spread it to a further nine.

“The spread of the Delta variant is likely to be fast and rapid.”

The added risk to Pasifika and Māori was the low uptake in the Covid-19 vaccine.

As of 16 August, more than 1.6 million people had received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine – 95,000 of these were Pasifika – the lowest group uptake.

Maori, the second lowest uptake in first dose vaccinations, recorded 140,000.

Only 59,006 Pasifika people had received their second jab and 86,137 Māori out of more than 900,000 fully vaccinated New Zealanders.

“They are the most vulnerable at risk, and we should have made more efforts to vaccinate them.”

He had criticised the recent mass vaccination event in Manukau, a Pacific hub which did not serve the Pasifika community.

Of the nearly 16,000 people that received their first Covid-19 vaccine there, only 1301 were Pasifika and 1061 Maori.

“It’s a complex thing, but we have to try all of these things to try and overcome the lethargy, the lower rates of uptake by Maori and Pacific [people].

“It’s why I am making a big song and dance about these mass vaccination figures in Manukau. If anything, it’s making the inequities wider.”

Lockdown messaging was clear: people needed to stay home, in their bubbles, wash hands regularly and wear masks and practise social distancing when out to use an essential service, Dr Tukuitonga said.

“Pasifika people, we have been spared numerous times in this pandemic. It’s like the boy who cried wolf: people have heard this before.

“But, we should look at what is happening in Fiji and how quickly it can get out of hand. We need to pay attention to the message and stay home. We cannot be complacent.”

Dr Tukuitonga said the next 24-48 hours are crucial for New Zealand.

“In Fiji, their outbreak started off very small with one case. They admittedly didn’t go into level 4 like we’ve done, but the message is the same: stay home,” he said.