Covid-19 vaccine: 2m New Zealanders will get first dose within four months

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Frontline health workers and people in high-risk settings including older people in South Auckland, people in residential care and older people – particularly Māori and Pacific – will get vaccine priority, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

At today’s 1pm Covid-19 briefing, Hipkins – who was joined by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield – said there were no new cases of the coronavirus in the community and just one case in managed isolation today.

The one new case today is a person who returned from the US and tested positive in routine testing a day or so after arrival. They are in an Auckland quarantine facility.

Dr Bloomfield said all close contacts and other contacts to date have returned negative results from the aircrew member who tested positive at the weekend.

On the outstanding gymgoer from the February cluster, Dr Bloomfield said they had returned a negative test.

The total number of active cases in 80 and the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic in New Zealand is 2054.

Yesterday there were 8600 tests processed. The total to date is 1,795,324. Since 1 January there have been 37 historical cases out of a total of 243.

Yesterday the ministery reported four cases of the coronanvirus in managed isolation and none in the community.

Vaccine rollout plan

Hipkins said two million New Zealanders would be able to get their first vaccination in the next three to four months under the government’s rollout plan.

The plan being announced sets out broadly when certain groups can expect to be vaccinated.

Chris Hipkins.

Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

As of today, 18,000 people would have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine with the initial focus on Covid-19 frontline border workers and now their families, Hipkins said.

Border workers and their families have been the first to get the jab, with more than 50,000 frontline health workers next in line.

Hipkins said a targeted roll-out of the vaccine would take place over the next three to four months initially focused on the two million New Zealanders in the most at-risk groups.

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After vaccinations of border workers’ household, which have just begun, the rollout would focus on frontline health workers from a number of settings and a quarter of a million people living in high risk settings. That includes older people in South Auckland, people in residential care, and older people, particularly Maori and Pasifika, living with a high risk of catching the virus.

Four main priority groups:

  • 1. 50,000 border and MIQ workers and their household contacts – they would have all completed at least their first dose by the end of this month
  • 2. Approximately 480,000 frontline workers and people living in high-risk settings, starting with 57,000 healthcare workers on the community frontlines and then moving through healthcare workers protecting NZ’s most vulnerable and some of the priority populations – this work started in February and will continue through to May
  • 3. Priority populations, approximately 1.7 million people who are at high-risk if they catch Covid-19 – that group will start getting vaccinated in May
  • 4. The remainder of the NZ population – approximately 2 million people – who can expect to start seeing vaccinations available to them from July

“This plan further reduces the risk of future outbreaks,” Hipkins said.

There are two further groups being looked at: people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds or people who need a vaccine to represent New Zealand overseas, he said.

There would be an exemption process similar to that for exemptions for MIQ, but the specific criteria had not yet been decided on, Hipkins said.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect our whānau, their lives and their livelihoods.”

Over-65s who had underlying health conditions in South Auckland would start getting vaccinated from the end of March, Hipkins said.

All other New Zealanders over 65, and other people with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19, would start getting vaccinated from May under the government’s new plan, he said.

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The vast majority of Covid-19 deaths had been in people aged over 65, Hipkins said.

He said the dates may overlap or shift slightly as modelling continued.

“Every New Zealander will be able to get a vaccine and it will be free.”

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said a vaccination clinic opened in South Auckland and it will see about 150 people a day, scaling up to about 1000 people a day.

Another in West Auckland and Central Auckland will also open up in the coming weeks.

Of the 20 District Health Boards in New Zealand, 14 are now vaccinating, he said.

Vaccines delivery

Hipkins said they were confident they would have their full allocation of the Pfizer vaccines in the country well before the end of the year.

The exact sequence of when they would arrive was still being locked down, they said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed on Monday the government had bought enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for every New Zealander, with an additional 8.5 million doses purchased. She said the deal would simplify the vaccine rollout by cutting down on additional equipment and training requirements for other vaccines.

Hipkins said the deal had meant the government was able to move forward on this plan.

Hipkins said he planned to have as many people vaccinated as possible by the end of the year. Approximately 40,000 courses were being allocated to Māori and Pacific healthcare providers.

“It’s a balanced plan that prioritises reducing the chance of future outbreaks whilst protecting elders, those with underlying health conditions and those that live in locations where we know outbreaks have occurred.”

Hipkins says yesterday afternoon they received the fourth batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines – around 64,000 doses.

That brings the total number of vaccines received so far to 265,000 – enough to vaccinate more than 132,000 people with the two doses required to get maximum protection, Hipkins says.

“All of this has us in a very strong position as we move to provide details of the sequencing of our vaccine roll-out.”

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National, ACT react

National leader Judith Collins criticised the rollout plan, saying it looked “very half-baked”.

She said it seemed to be lacking in detail, and it was not good enough that the booking system and online tool for people to check when they will be eligible were yet ready.

“If you’re going to have a system you have to have it operational.

“New Zealanders who are living in Australia can go online, they can put their details in, and they can be told around about when they will be able to be vaccinated. In New Zealand, three out of the four systems aren’t ready to go.

“It’s good that we’re talking about vaccine rollouts, it’s good that that’s starting, but actually people expect better”, she said.

ACT Leader David Seymour said the plan had the government’s “hallmark shocking lack of detail”.

“The two most frequent responses Chris Hipkins gave to media today were ‘probably that’s a decision that has not been taken yet’ and ‘we haven’t worked through the finer details’.

“Today’s announcement was essentially what the government said 10 days ago but with the addition of older or unwell people who live within the boundaries of the Counties-Manukau DHB in the second phase”, he said.

Seymour said how the rollout would occur was still a work in progress and that “simply isn’t good enough”.

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