6 May 2021

NZ may miss 2021 target for Covid-19 vaccination, doctors warn

From Checkpoint, 6:16 pm on 6 May 2021

The Royal New Zealand College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty is warning Aotearoa may miss its end of year target for 90 percent Covid-19 vaccination.

There have been difficulties for some eligible people trying to get appointments confirmed, with overloaded phone lines and in some cases long waits at clinics.

Dr Betty believes vaccine supply could be a problem. And if the programme ramps up as expected, the next few weeks are crucial.

"We're going from essentially vaccinating about 150,000 people with two doses to 1.7 million people over the next six to eight weeks," he told Checkpoint.

"That is a big, big step up in terms of capacity, giving the vaccine and making sure the system works before the major rollout which occurs in the second half of the year, which is to the general population.

"This is logistically a very big shift in terms of what's happening.

"At the moment one of the issues is the DHBs are running these programme in their regional areas. What we do know is there is going to be a step-through into a mixed model.

"So there will be possibly big stadium events, there will be immunisation centres, and general practice and pharmacy are going to start to come onto line, especially from July onwards.

"Our view is that the more access points we have to the vaccination, the more ability people have to access the vaccination, the better. And that will lend itself to success, but we'll really have to see how it goes over the next two months," he said.

Dr Betty said his organisation is getting a lot of anecdotal evidence from GPs around New Zealand, that patients are asking a lot about the Covid-19 vaccine.

He said it is still not 100 percent clear what role GPs will play in administering the vaccine.

"A lot of the DHBs have put out expressions of interest to practices across the country to see if they are interested in being part of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.

"What we do know is the College of GPs surveyed GPs around the country and we found that about 60 percent of GPs answered in the affirmative, that they want to be involved in the Covid-19 rollout.

"There is a big motivation for general practice to be involved, those expressions are going out those responses will be going back, and we'll have a clearer idea of how much of the sector is going to be involved in in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine."

Dr Betty said we should be pragmatic about the Covid-19 vaccination target for the end of the year, as it is something that has not been done before.

"It would be great if we did reach that target, however this is the single biggest vaccination event we've ever seen. If we think about four million people being vaccinated and each person requires two vaccinations, that's eight million vaccines that need to be given.

"The other thing that's coming into play here with the tragic situation in India and the disaster that's happening there – there's potentially the likelihood of disruption in terms of vaccine supply from overseas."

About half the world's Covid-19 vaccine supply is produced in that area, Dr Betty said. 

"I think we do need to be quite relaxed about that in the sense that New Zealand's in a relatively good position at the moment, it doesn't have Covid-19, the borders are relatively secure.

"So if there are delays, we can probably cope with it, and if it does roll into next year, I think that's just the way it's going to be.

"I'm hopeful that we will. But again, we're very dependent on the supply of vaccines, what's happening as part of the worldwide situation at this point. And I think we do have to be realistic if there are delays and the rolling out of the vaccine."