Lakes ranked second-lowest for Māori children immunised out of 20 DHBs

Poor experiences with healthcare and a lack of vaccination education could be behind lags in child immunisation rates in the Lakes District Health Board area.

However, the iwi-led Covid-19 vaccination centre is looking at ways to make all vaccines more accessible.

According to the Ministry of Health, the Lakes District Health Board was the third-lowest when it came to the number of children fully immunised by the age of two, in the three-month period ending September.

In the health board area, 80.2 per cent of two-year-olds were fully immunised against the likes of measles, mumps and rubella, varicella (chickenpox) and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Out of 20 DHBs, Canterbury had the highest rate of 93.6 per cent.

The region was the second-lowest for Māori two-year-olds fully immunised, at 73.5 per cent.

The data showed 71.6 per cent of Pacific children in the region were fully vaccinated at six months old, ranking it as the seventh-lowest for that category.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao GP and member of Te Roopu Hauora o Te Arawa, Dr Grace Malcolm, said vaccination education in the community could be to blame.

“It’s the same situation that has happened with Covid – partly, it’s the anti-institution thing, partly it’s (people) just don’t believe in vaccinations and partly it’s Māori not being in that space.

“The Māori population won’t come into the GP service unless they have to.”

To boost overall rates, the Te Arawa Covid-19 drive-through vaccine centre, along with the Lakes DHB, was looking into becoming a vaccination hub for immunisations for all ages.

Malcolm said it was looking at how delivery could be “safer culturally and safer in terms of people’s perception”.

Malcolm hoped this would make immunisations more accessible and improve the region’s immunisation rates.

“The Māori population tend to be anti-institution, particularly if they’ve been on the receiving end of some of the not-so-good parts of the institution so there’s a natural suspicion there.

“Populations that have higher Māori numbers tend to be at the lower end of the vaccination numbers … That’s the way it’s been for quite a while,” Malcolm said.

Te Arawa Covid Response Hub chairman Monty Morrison said the Te Arawa Covid-19 Response Hub had a whānau approach.

“It allows us the opportunity to inform and grow the participation in the wider immunisation programme.”

Morrison said it was “working with Lakes DHB to improve services and communications to ensure the community has seven-day access to vaccinations across our two main sites”.

A Lakes DHB spokesperson said the board had had some challenges in achieving consistent immunisation coverage.

“There are a range of reasons for low childhood vaccination rates, but these are often due to systemic barriers in access,” they said.

This included lack of time, lack of transport and poor experience with the healthcare system as opposed to anti-vaccination views.

“Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective of all public health interventions and is an essential component to the prevention of illness.”

The spokesperson said most children received their vaccinations through their GP, but some children were missing out.

Lakes DHB has a relatively high proportion of people in the most deprived section of society, the spokesperson said.

It has an outreach immunisation service that follows up on children that have been unable to get their vaccinations.

The spokesperson said while the programme had successful outcomes, there was the opportunity to do more.

The Lakes DHB recently developed a Childhood Immunisation Outreach Action Plan, which includes working to link together services to deliver childhood immunisations.

Ministry of Social Development and Pinnacle Health with the Lakes DHB is working to ensure children in emergency housing and transitional housing do not miss out on their vaccinations.

“Early 2022 will see a primary focus on reducing the gap and appropriating resource to services that are better connected with hard-to-reach whanau,” the spokesperson said.

Clinical leader Lakes Whānau Āwhina Plunket Alison Craig said low immunisation rates were closely related to deprivation and poverty.

“The percentage of fully immunised children is particularly low among tamariki Māori and children living in high-deprivation areas. There are whānau in the Lakes district who are living in poverty, often in crowded emergency accommodation in motels, with very little resource.”

Craig said Whānau Āwhina Plunket strongly supported immunisation and encouraged all whānau to ensure their pēpi and tamariki were protected by vaccinations.

Whānau Āwhina Plunket works closely with health boards and health services to improve vaccination access, awareness and uptake by providing whānau and families with advice and information on vaccinations, and answering any queries they may have.

“Sometimes it takes time for people to feel ready to immunise their tamariki – but it’s never too late,” Craig said.

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