New Zealand cannot abandon its COVID elimination strategy while Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates are too low
4 min read
Until vaccination rates in the country's most vulnerable groups are much higher, elimination remains the best way to avoid repeating the mistakes of history.
Auckland's move to alert level 3 has also triggered speculation about whether the national COVID-19 elimination strategy has failed or is even being abandoned. While the government denies it, others clearly believe it is at least a possibility.

The uncertainty is troubling. If elimination fails or is abandoned, it would suggest we have not learnt the lessons of history, particularly when it comes to our more vulnerable populations.

In 1918, the mortality rate among Māori from the influenza pandemic was eight times that of Europeans. The avoidable introduction of influenza to Samoa from Aotearoa resulted in the deaths of about 22% of the population.

Similar observations were seen in subsequent influenza outbreaks in Aotearoa in 1957 and 2009 for both Māori and Pasifika people. These trends are well known and documented.

And yet, despite concerns we could see the same thing happen again, there have been repeated claims that an elimination strategy cannot succeed. Some business owners, politicians and media commentators have called for a change in approach that would see Aotearoa "learn to live with the virus".

Read more: New Zealand government takes a calculated risk to relax Auckland's lockdown while new cases continue to appear

This is premature and likely to expose vulnerable members of our communities to the disease. Abandoning the elimination strategy while vaccine coverage rates remain low among the most vulnerable people would be reckless and irresponsible. In short, more Māori and Pasifika people would die.

Far better will be to stick to the original plan that has served the country well, lift vaccination coverage rates with more urgency, and revise the strategy when vaccination rates among Māori and Pasifika people are as high as…
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