27 Aug 2021

Covid-19 Minister on vaccine supply for students, lockdown borders, hospitalisations

From Checkpoint, 5:18 pm on 27 August 2021

A max vaccination of New Zealand's school-aged children right now is not possible currently, as there is not enough of the Pfizer vaccine in the country, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

"That's the big thing that's stopping us scaling up even further with vaccine delivery," he said.

Students are currently home from school under lockdown level 4, but the Delta strain of Covid-19 is proving to infect more young people. 

The next shipment of Pfizer vaccine is due in October, but Hipkins said he has been pushing for that to come earlier. 

Northland lockdown questioned, but contact tracing uncertainty remains

From Wednesday 1 September Auckland and Northland will be in level 4 lockdown while the rest of New Zealand moves to level 3 restrictions. Hipkins said imposing a land-based border between regions is challenging, but the government has done a lot of planning and improvement. 

It does not give much time for businesses to apply for exemptions to cross the border, but Hipkins said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working around the clock. 

"It's a 24/7 operation at the moment... It's not like we haven't dealt with this before... So there are systems in place, and employers are familiar with those systems as they've to use them before." 

He said the advice from contact tracers is there is still some movement of people in Northland that give it some elevated risk. 

Far North District Mayor John Carter told Checkpoint there are some serious questions that need answers regarding lockdown.

"How can Wellington have some cases and yet go to level three, we don't have any in Northland, and we're still tied in with Auckland. And we're still tied in with Auckland because of Warkworth, which is 30km south of our Northland boundary."

He said in Northland they are taking the risk of Covid-19 seriously, but businesses continue to put at risk by lockdown.

He is asking for Northland businesses and travellers from the south to have a safe route through Auckland.

Hipkins said a safe passage was created in the past under regional lockdowns, and the government is "absolutely" looking at doing that again. 

"It effectively means people travelling straight through without stopping." 

Health expert Professor Nick Wilson told Checkpoint uncertainty is the reason Northland is staying in level 4 lockdown with Auckland while Wellington is set to join the rest of the country in level 3. 

"We know a lot about those cases in Wellington, from what I can understand," he said. "But for the situation in Warkworth there is still a lot of uncertainty."

Mass vaccination of secondary school-aged children not possible - Hipkins

Hipkins said a mass vaccination of children aged 12 years and older is not being planned, despite the fact 21 percent of the cases in the currrent outbreak are secondary-school-aged. 

"Logistically, that wouldn't be possible to do without canceling the bookings of all the people that are already in the queue to get the vaccine.

"We wouldn't have the supply necessarily to be able to do that. We're always talking about trying to get more supply. I spoke to Pfizer myself a couple of days ago. There's a lot of work happening to see if we can get more supply into the country faster."

"From the beginning of this year when we made the decision to switch to Pfizer, we knew that we would get about four million doses... before the end of this quarter, and about four million after, in October. That's effectively what we're working to.

Hipkins said schools will not be reopening until it is clear it is safe to do so. "Very little activity happens on a school site under level 3." 

Professor Nick Wilson says essential workers getting vaccinated for Covid-19 right now should take their children with them for a vaccine if 12 years or older.

"They're the children in alert level 3 that are going to go back to school so that would be a fast-track way of getting them vaccinated."

He said another option is that children are vaccinated at school.

"School is a very efficient place to deliver vaccine as we found with many other vaccines... Now that we're seeing how easily [Covid-19] is spreading amongst younger age groups. It would be good, especially in Auckland."

He also suggested vaccinators should be moved from around New Zealand to Auckland, to make sure the country's biggest city has widespread vaccination coverage.

Covid-19 cases in hospital

Currently there are 19 people in hospital with Covid-19 in Auckland. Hipkins told Checkpoint it is a serious situation. 

He said the Delta strain is infecting more young people and there are many more potential contacts per person, but the people in hospital tend to be older. 

"And they do tend to be getting sicker than they have in previous outbreaks."

In response to the question of if there could be deaths in this outbreak, Hipkins said: "Whenever you're dealing with Covid-19... regrettably, that is something that we have to be aware could be just around the corner."

"At this point the hospitals are not stretched," in terms of having resources for Covid-19 patients, he said. "It would be it would be quite a few more than we're dealing with at the moment, but it's possible if we end up with a very large-scale outbreak that [hospitals would be overwhelmed].

"So we're doing everything that we can to try and minimise the risk of that. That's why we're all at level 4."