The Prime Minister, Bloomfield, and Verrall meet to discuss the next phase of vaccine rollout.

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The government has confirmed that the first segment of the two million people in Group 4 are now eligible to receive their Pfizer doses, beginning with 60 to 64-year-olds.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the Covid-19 vaccination programme will be significantly expanded beginning today, with a shipment of 350,000 doses of vaccines arriving yesterday.

Ardern, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall held a press conference to announce the start of the country’s major new phase of vaccine rollout.

Watch the briefing here:

Speaking at the Te Awa vaccination centre in Hamilton where the briefing was being held, Ardern said the centre was the largest in Waikato and thanked its team and Tainui for their help.

Some 1.7 million first doses have been administered in New Zealand, and 699,479 have had a second dose.

Ardern said the vaccination programme was significantly expanding from today.

From today, the first segment of the two million people in group 4 are eligible to receive their Pfizer doses, beginning with 60 to 64-year-olds.

It is expected to be some time before the majority of group 4 will be vaccinated despite the government promising July would coincide with a ramping up of the vaccination programme.

Border workers, frontline workers, the vulnerable and those aged over 65 – people in the first three groups – have been the priority until now.

“Over the last week there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of vaccines administered, 204,943 in the past seven days with that number set to keep rising,” Ardern said.

She said a 350,000 dose shipment of vaccines arrived yesterday, bringing total July deliveries to 1 million.

Some 1.5 million more are expected to arrive in August, she said. There are now 676 vaccination sites up-and-running around New Zealand, including GPs and pharmacies, she said.

The vaccine booking call centre has received over 75,000 calls in the five days it has been operational.

More than 200,000 bookings were made today alone and there were more than 840,000 future bookings in the system.

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Ardern said, with the the number already vaccinated, 70 percent of all New Zealanders aged over 65 had either already been vaccinated or were scheduled to be.

From today, people aged over 60 will receive instructions to book a vaccine using the online booking system or by calling the 0800 number.

Ardern said the rapidity of being able to book people in depended on where people were in the country. “I can assure you than no matter what, there is a vaccine for everyone,” she added.

She said everyone eligible would be able to be vaccinated this year.

“The only thing we’re asking you to do is to book and show up.”

The briefing comes on the heels of criticism from a prominent South Auckland councillor about the first mass vaccination event, which is set to take place in Manukau this weekend.

Efeso Collins told RNZ that initially, there was a low uptake of bookings due to poor communication with the community.

He blamed those in “ivory towers” who plan for communities they have no knowledge of.

It is hoped that 15,000 people will be immunised during the three-day event, which begins on Friday.

Ardern said the first mass vaccination event was being run as a trial, and part of what was being trialled involved how best to reach people. “This will help us learn for future events.”

She said it was not a cultural failing. “We’ve got over 15,000 people booked for the event. We’ll learn from this one to see what went well, what we need to do differently … but it is the first”.

She said she did not want to give a report on the event’s success before it has even taken place.

Ardern said yesterday was a record day of vaccinations, with more than 38,000 delivered in one day.

“That’s what we want to continue to see as we scale up across the country, as we open more sites, and we see more people book.”

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Workplace vaccination is also being planned along with the possibility of vaccinations at marae and schools.

The one million people in group 3 had been able to be prioritised, she said, and no one would miss out by bringing in the roughly 160,000 aged 60-65. “We need to maintain the momentum of the vaccine rollout.”

She said it was the big increase in deliveries this month and next month, which was allowing the rollout to ramp up.

Bloomfield provided an update on the Covid-19 numbers. He said he didn’t want to overstate the importance of there being no new cases in the community, with community cases seen across Australia, not just in New South Wales.

He stated that he presided over a two-hour meeting every week to manage the vaccination program’s rollout, and that as it expanded, an increasing number of providers joined in.

The number of GPs and pharmacies joining was far greater than the authorities had anticipated at the outset, he said.

All the testing after the two positive wastewater tests last week have come back negative, he said, but additional testing capacity remained in place in New Plymouth. He said anyone who had symptoms should ring Healthline and get a test.

Verrall said when people were experiencing traditional cold and flu symptoms they cannot assume it’s RSV and need to be aware it could be Covid-19 and seek advice about getting a test.

She said there had been no change to health protocols and workers need to be not going into work if they were feeling sick.

Meanwhile, Minister Peeni Henare said he took great heart in the fact the over-65 Māori population was tracking alongside or in some places ahead of non-Māori populations in vaccination.

He stated that 77 percent of the Mori population was between the ages of 16 and 54, and that as the vaccination programme expands to group four, more Mori can be expected to receive the vaccine.

He stated that the government recognised the difficulty of reaching rural and other communities without internet access, which is why the 0800 number was shared.

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He stated that a lot of work has been done to bring communications to Mori communities, which has been led in part by Mori themselves. There are also a number of upcoming events, such as the King’s coronation and Auckland’s largest kapa haka event at the end of August, that could be good opportunities to spread the vaccination message.

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