Rural–urban variation in COVID-19 vaccination uptake in Aotearoa New Zealand: Examining the national roll-out



Talis Liepins, Gabrielle Davie, Rory Miller, Jesse Whitehead, Brandon De Graaf, Lynne Clay, Sue Crengle and Garry Nixon



This study aimed to understand rural–urban differences in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations during the peak period of the national vaccination roll-out in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ). Using a linked national dataset of health service users aged 12+ years and COVID-19 immunization records, age-standardized rates of vaccination uptake were calculated at fortnightly intervals, between June and December 2021, by rurality, ethnicity, and region. Rate ratios were calculated for each rurality category with the most urban areas (U1) used as the reference. Overall, rural vaccination rates lagged behind urban rates, despite early rapid rural uptake. By December 2021, a rural–urban gradient developed, with age-standardized coverage for R3 areas (most rural) at 77%, R2 81%, R1 83%, U2 85%, and U1 (most urban) 89%. Age-based assessments illustrate the rural–urban vaccination uptake gap was widest for those aged 12–44 years, with older people (65+) having broadly consistent levels of uptake regardless of rurality. Variations from national trends are observable by ethnicity. Early in the roll-out, Indigenous Māori residing in R3 areas had a higher uptake than Māori in U1, and Pacific peoples in R1 had a higher uptake than those in U1. The extent of differences in rural–urban vaccine uptake also varied by region.