A follow-up on our COVID-19 kōrero

On 15 December we hosted an online kōrero about COVID-19 and the disability community. This is a summary of that talk, as well as some of the documents and assets discussed in that meeting, along with further questions and answers.

Office for Disability Issues (ODI) acknowledges these are summary notes of the key points made which may not fully reflect the depth of the presentations and discussions. The kōrero was attended by close to 100 people.

Content on this website from the meeting includes:  



Dr Huhana Hickey (Dr Hu) welcomed everyone to the Kōrero.

Huhana welcomed us with a Karakia, presented both in Māori and English. 

Huhana acknowledged Ava for his role in organising, and as a leader from the Pasifika community. 

She welcomed Minister Sepuloni to open the meeting. 

Minister Sepuloni welcomed everyone and acknowledged the Office for Disability Issues for hosting.  She welcomed the presenters and thanked them for their involvement in the event. Minister thanked all for attending and acknowledged Dr Gaurav Sharma MP Hamilton West in addition to other officials.

Notes from Minister’s speech

The Minister introduced the topic of Covid-19. She talked briefly about the key strategy to date being to provide protection from the spread of Covid-19, to save lives and support the welfare needs of the community. She noted that New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of infection and significantly fewer deaths than other countries.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on disabled people across the globe, but at the heart of our response to COVID-19 is continuing to support the welfare needs of individuals and whānau as we move forward.

The Government is providing $204.1m for region-specific, locally led responses. Government wants to ensure welfare support such as food, financial assistance, and connection to the right services is available for you and your whānau.

Getting vaccinated is one of the main ways we can gain more protection against the virus. Everyone in Aotearoa over the age of 12 can now get vaccinated, and I want to encourage everyone to get theirs.

For disabled people or people with an impairment, the journey to get vaccinated may look a little different. We have created the Manaakitanga Journey online tool (Manaakitanga Journey online tool) to help support disabled people to get vaccinated, providing information on how to get help with transport, how to book a vaccine, and where you can find ‘super accessible’ vaccination centres. If you, or a family member want to get vaccinated, you can find the tool on the COVID-19 website.

In consultation with ODI and the Ministry of Health, the Social Wellbeing Agency has done some analysis that shows that disabled people are leading the charge, with higher rates of having at least one dose of the vaccine than non-disabled people.

As of 30 November, 90% of disabled people have had at least one dose, and Māori and Pacific disabled people have higher rates of vaccination compared to non-disabled  Māori and Pacific disabled people.

I would like to thank everyone who has started the process of becoming fully vaccinated for playing your part in keeping your friends, whānau and community safe. 

In these challenging and changing times, despite our best efforts, we can never provide enough information to keep all informed in the way they would want.

This is why events like this kōrero are so important, they allow you as the disabled community to come together, to find out information, to ask questions of officials and give your input and feedback as to how we can make things better. 

I hope that this kōrero today will become the first of many events where the disability community comes together not just on COVID-19 but on the range of important disability policy and initiatives we are progressing next year, such as establishing the new Ministry for Disabled People (name still to be decided); Taking to scale across the motu, disability supports that give effect to the Enabling Good Lives principles and approaches; introduction of legislation to achieve a more accessible Aotearoa; and progressing the New Zealand Disability Strategy through the Disability Action Plan and progressively realising our obligations to disabled New Zealanders, and their family/whānau, through fulfilling our commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.

And if you need help, there are resources on the Unite Against COVID-19 website , including people you can talk to. Look out for each other. By working together and getting vaccinated, we can beat this.

Take care, stay safe, and I hope you find tonight’s event useful. Best wishes for the festive season. It is a time to celebrate with those who are important to us.

Chair Huhana Hickey Huhana thanked the Minister for her speech.  She also thanked the Minister for her work for the disabled community and wished her a happy festive season. 

Vaccination data by Alex Brunt and Craig Wright from the Social Wellbeing Agency

The Social Wellbeing Agency was asked to create an indicator for those who have a disability and who needed extra support to increase vaccination rates.

Having this data can help with identifying who may need extra support to be vaccinated.

The Integrated Data Infrastructure was used, and data was anonymised. This data was matched to other sources that identify those with impairments (for example census data).

Overall, the data revealed about 1.2 million New Zealanders had a disability and at least 90,000 had one or more impairments that were classified as high needs.

People with impairments are 90% double vaccinated.  The severity of impairment seems to have an impact on vaccination rates. 

All rates for disabled people are above that of the general population. 89% of Maori and 85% of Pacific Peoples with disabilities are vaccinated, which is higher than these groups in the general population.

Some DHBs are showing that the rate of disabled people being vaccinated is on the increase.

Data has shown the need to now focus support more on specific communities, including autistic people and those with intellectual disabilities was noted.

The data has published on the ODI website

Huhana thanked Alex and Craig.  Huhana asked what the social wellbeing agency is?  The Social Wellbeing Agency is there to provide evidence and data informed advice to government on how they can target investment to improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.  They work across many Ministries especially health, education, MSD etc. 

Covid-19 Care in the Community by Dr Andrew Connolly, Ministry of Health and Geoff Cook, Ministry of Social Development

Andrew spoke about care in the community. The idea is about allowing Kiwis with Covid, if they are well enough, to stay at home and be cared for at home. 

This is not about trying to stop people who are ill going to hospital. It is about ensuring disabled people have the option to be cared for at home if they can be.

For New Zealanders with disabilities, we want the usual care providers to continue to deliver the care, albeit with masks and gloves. It is essential that people who need assistance should be able to seek that assistance from people they know and trust. 

It was noted that there may be parts of the country that may need new services to make this happen.

At the same time, the public health system remains busy trying to keep tabs on where the disease is at and how it is affecting the community.

Andrew said that he thought there would be continuing issues for everyone trying to access non covid health issues, as the health care system is so busy dealing with Covid and its ramifications. He also acknowledged that disabled people are more likely to have additional delays due to disability issues on top of the Covid situation.

Geoff took over at this point due to technical issues.

When we have people, who are in the community but at home to recover, MSD wants to be able to help by providing care and support, support such as access to food.  There are other types of support that can be provided via community and non-government providers. MSD’s role is to coordinate this support. 

Huhana said there are some disabled people that have a very severe reaction to the vaccination, and that some of these people find it hard to get the vaccination certificate. She asked what plans are being made to help these people live a normal life, given they may not ever be able to get a vaccination. 

Andrew said everyone needs to make their own decision about vaccination and that we shouldn’t discriminate against people who haven’t had it.  When asked if he has had a vaccine, Andrew says that he’s a doctor and that he wouldn’t take anything he wasn’t happy with.  He also had the vaccination because he has young grandchildren and he wanted to support them. 

Andrew noted that he is not clear on how the vaccine exemption process is operating however he will get more information to share. A response was then provided by Rachel MacKay, Ministry of Health regarding those who cannot at this time get vaccinated noting that where people have a medical exemption for not getting the vaccination at this time, they can apply for a vaccine pass. These exemptions can be applied for through your GP or Nurse Practitioner, and once approved your vaccine pass will look the same as someone who is vaccinated.

Andrew encouraged people to talk with trusted people, seek reliable information and to not rely on the information on the internet.

Huhana pointed out that there is still a lot of difficulty in getting out to get food and yet some people are still being declined food boxes.  Huhana said that often the community will look after their people once they know about them.  Another issue raised was that some disabled people can’t eat the food given by food banks because they are allergic to it. 

A response was provided by Rachel MacKay, Ministry of Health regarding those who cannot at this time get vaccinated noting that where people have a medical exemption for not getting the vaccination at this time, they can apply for a vaccine pass. These exemptions can be applied for through your GP or Nurse Practitioner, and once approved your vaccine pass will look the same as someone who is vaccinated.

Huhana shared a story of a mother and two children who got COVID-19 and talked about people having the right to make their own choice.  She noted she got vaccinated as she wanted to act to protect our children and grandchildren. Huhana asked another person to share their experience with about exemptions

A situation with a hospital security guard was shared. They were challenged in an aggressive manner, and the guard seemed to not be understanding about exemptions. As an articulate person she was able to negotiate the situation and to make a complaint. This has impacted on her confidence, and it was noted that District Health Boards (DHB) need to improve how they are responding to people who have trouble with wearing a mask.

Brian Coffey from ODI noted rapid work being done alongside Ministry of Health on getting information out there on face coverings exemptions, and the possibility of doing a policy re-set. 

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet: COVID-19 Protection Framework by Rory McKenzie and Ivan Lukatina

Rory and Ivan provided an overview of Traffic Lights System also known as the COVID-19 Protection Framework. You can view it or read it on our resources page.

This has been introduced as a way to manage, the Alert Levels System was useful initially, however a lot has now been learnt and we need to move to managing.

New Zealand has done reasonably well throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to other countries. The protection framework is designed to respond to vaccination rates and health system capability.  There are three settings within the framework:

Green, some covid cases in the community

Orange, increasing transmission in the community

Red, need to protect people as the disease is threatening to get out of control

People can move between the regions, even where the traffic light is a different colour. However, Auckland currently has some additional restrictions. There also remains the ability to put specific areas into lockdown if needed.

A vaccine pass is now what is required in order to go out and about more freely in the community. The pass is the only way of proving your vaccination status. You cannot use a letter or the old purple card. 

Vaccine passes can be obtained online, by phoning 0800 222 478 or by visiting a participating pharmacy/chemist.

The NZ pass verifier application does not store your personal data, it does show your name and date of birth briefly as your vaccine certificate is scanned. 

If you have a vaccine exemption and you have a pass, anyone looking at your vaccine pass, will see the same information as if you were fully vaccinated. 

It is important to note that a mask exemption and a vaccine exemption are two completely different things. Work is being done to improve the situation for people needing mask exemptions.

You are legally required to show your pass when asked.

Some businesses are requiring this, others are not.  Essential services (such as supermarkets, basic health care facilities, transport, etc) are not allowed to ask to see your vaccine pass. People need to be free to use these essential services no matter their vaccine status.

You can’t be asked to provide your my vaccine pass to access essential services e.g. getting groceries, getting basic health care etc. 

We do still need to wear masks, particularly in orange and red levels. Mask exemptions do still exist under the protection framework. It is known that the process needs to be improved.

Decisions are still being made about border controls.

General questions

Q: What can be done for people who need to be vaccinated but are too anxious to have the vaccine, this is often the case for people with Autism and learning difficulties that just can’t be vaccinated even though they want to be. 

A: There are solutions out there but often we need the vaccination teams/GPs to come up with individual solutions.  Rachel from Ministry of Health put her contact details up rachel.mackay@health.govt.nz

It is possible for DHBs to arrange for hospital assistance in some instances. The focus is on trying to help individuals who are wanting to have but are not feeling comfortable.

It was also noted that some people have had their vaccinations in hospital to help manage with their post reactions.

Q: How is information getting out to others who can’t use technology?

A: Anne Hawker, Principal Disability Advisor, explained the work being done on alternative formats and circulating hard copies through DHBs and disability providers. Information is also available to help people who need supported decision-making information regarding the vaccine.

 Q. Service provider asked questions about how to manage where in a group setting, one resident is not vaccinated and may be putting others at risk?

A. The difficulty of this was noted, as well as the right of each person to make their choice about the vaccine. Individual discussion on this issue would be helpful. Dr Hu will follow up to discuss policy and an individualised approach. 

Closing the kōrero

Huhana thanked everyone who participated in the meeting and talked about the importance of doing things collectively. The one hour was not long enough but a great start. Information will also be put on the ODI website.

She noted that the best person you can ask about what is right for you is your doctor that you trust.

Season’s greetings and thank you.

Thanks to the interpreters, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, and the Office for Disability Issues. Thank you to the speakers. 

Dr Hu encouraged us all to reach out, care for each other and get into 2022 with a whole new resilience.

Tell us what you think

Page last updated: