As Auckland looks ahead with hope to reduced Alert Levels and re-joining the rest of New Zealand next week after the longest lockdown seen in New Zealand’s Covid response so far, the key question going through my mind has been why the government waited until now to be finally pushing the vaccination message and why aren’t they reaching out to all ethnic communities?
The vaccinate message isn’t getting to everyone. Those who get to, face additional hurdles to do their part for New Zealand. Bluntly, New Zealand’s ethnic communities are simply not being treated fairly and simply put, there is discrimination in the government’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
Over the past several weeks, while working remotely from my home like many Aucklanders, my office has been inundated since the start of lockdown with distressing stories of constituents unable to navigate the vaccination website or being turned away from walk-in clinics because there is little to no support for clinics and vaccine centres dealing with language barriers.
This, alongside ongoing discriminatory decisions regarding which shops can be open under Level 4 is woeful.
The Ministry for Ethnic Communities also isn’t doing its part.
In the last month, I have seen them advertise exactly one ethnic community focused vaccination clinic. It wasn’t even in Auckland, it was in Dunedin!
Their priorities are clearly in need of urgent review and they are barely three months old.
The Covid information being put out in video and on the website is also pretty lacking.
Take a look at the information provided in languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, Tamil, Gujarati, Arabic, or, in my case Korean, it all ultimately takes you to the Book my Vaccine website only available in English and Te Reo Maori languages.
Frankly, there’s not much point providing information in our mother tongues for informational purposes if the actual tools we have to use afterwards cannot also equally accommodate the needs of those communities.
The reality is people with language barriers to English in New Zealand will rarely frequent English language websites as well, I recognise this even here writing in Indian Newslink in an English language column, even if there is a language change button, they will engage with information provided in their language community as a first step rather than try and interpret whether the English content says more than the mother tongue option.
A great example of this is my hard working Auckland based staff regularly getting queries for Level 4 guidelines through language supported social media services that can easily be found on the Covid-19 websites.
It is there in English but rarely translated further and so without intervention by those who can assist, the government scores an ‘own goal’ in the spread of misinformation rather than helping us fight the greatest health struggle the world has known in over a century.
While the high level information may be in many languages and circulated to ethnic audiences from time to time, it is rare to see comprehensive information in a multitude of languages proffered.
This is a serious problem because many in our ethnic communities are essential workers, many temporary migrants here on work visas with heavier language barriers and a higher change of digital exclusion just won’t get the information they need to keep themselves safe when doing their jobs or out in the community.
For our largest city, described by many as ‘super-diverse,’ this is simply not acceptable.
Every walk-in clinic and mass vaccination venue open to the public must have staff or easily identifiable tools such as immediate teleconferencing or digital support on hand to help everyone get the vaccine, get safe and get our economy working again.
It is completely unacceptable during a pandemic that people are being turned away from a vaccine centre for the failure by the government to recognise that a global health crisis involves a multilingual response just as much as it is for people of one ethnicity to be asked for their passports and proof of identification while others are not.
We need more community support for cultural and faith based teams who are rearing and willing to coordinate vaccination days for their people.
We want to see the government take the lead with proactive targeting to ramp up proactive vaccination information distribution and multi-language use of the booking tools.
We need to be doing everything to fight COVID-19 and these steps are essential to get everyone vaccinated.
I encourage everyone reading this column to spread the word to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to help family and friends make appointments if they cannot themselves, my team can assist you with Covid-19 queries, we can help you find the nearest vaccination centres and link you up with language support services where needed, just get in touch at MPLee@parliament.govt.nz or on (09) 5200538.
We cannot let this government force another lockdown because they dropped the ball on the vaccine rollout. We need to get our economy working again, we need to get businesses operating normally again and we need to see our friends and family again wherever they are around the world.
Let’s all do our part and save New Zealand lives.
Melissa Lee is a Member of Parliament on National List and the Party’s Spokesperson for Broadcasting & Media, Digital Economy and Communications and Ethnic Communities.