8 Apr 2021

Covid-19 vaccination rollout: DHBs face 'hard work' setting up large clinics

9:52 am on 8 April 2021

New Zealand's Covid-19 vaccination rollout needs to scale up and the next few months will be challenging for the health system, an immunisation expert says.

Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) Director, Nikki Turner receiving her COVID-19 vaccination

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner receiving her Covid-19 vaccination. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

By Tuesday 90,286 doses had been administered, mainly to border workers and frontline health staff.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the programme was starting to ramp up.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner said the rollout started well, and there will be hard work scaling up health services in the next few months.

Turner said New Zealand has a complicated health system, with 20 DHBs, so there would be challenges along the way.

"We now do have to scale up our clinics, sort out how we do it, how we run with it. Now we 're going to be using just Pfizer vaccine we can't use it in small clinic settings, we have to scale up the big ones, we have to scale up all our health services.

"We're not used to doing large clinics... We really have to set it up right now. We might be behind schedule but also I know very well that every DHB is working very hard right now in scaling up the size of these clinics.

"It's not going to be a smooth ride, but to date it's looking promising."

The Pfizer vaccine, which has to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, cannot be delivered in the same way as flu vaccines which have been offered through pharmacies and GP surgeries.

"This vaccine, because of its different nature, its fragility, its storage problems - we now have to design big clinics.

"We haven't done that often before.

"Already in the last few weeks we are developing lots of great models with lots of experience about how that works."

Turner said New Zealand needed to do better reaching those who traditionally don't have good access to health services, in particularly Māori, Pasifika, elderly, and homeless populations.

'Working towards July'

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is pushing to have 10,000 people a day given Covid-19 vaccines.

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"Where we are on the numbers is that we're about 95 percent of our target at the moment," Robertson told First Up.

"We dropped off just a little bit over Easter, we didn't see so many people coming in through the Easter Holiday break but we've been ramping up our capacity and the goal is over the next week or two to be pushing up towards 8000 and then 10,000 people a day and that'll keep us on track with our plan."

Robertson said they also needed to match the vaccination rollout to the supply of doses coming from Pfizer.

"We don't want to suddenly use up all the doses that we've got and then have a period when we have none.

"We're working towards that July date when we've got enough supplies coming in to have everybody vaccinated that wants to be vaccinated."

Robertson said the leaked document published by the National Party, which it said showed New Zealand's original target for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout was 390,000 doses administered by now, was out of date.

The January document was early modelling being worked on at the beginning of the year, he said. Things changed after the agreement to purchase 10 million Pfizer vaccine doses, making it the the primary vaccine provider.

"Therefore changed our tack a bit - we got a different framework for the way we're going to deliver the vaccines and then we got more detailed information from the DHBs about how they were going to roll out the plan.

Turner said New Zealand was in a good position with the Pfizer vaccine.

"New Zealand didn't run ahead early on with emergency approval - appropriately - as we didn't have large amounts of disease and death in our country.

"The result of that is we are several months behind countries where with severe Covid within our population.

"That has been a considerable advantage to New Zealand because we're now in a very enviable position that we have secured a vaccine that has got a huge amount of real world safety data behind it.

"We're in an incredibly fortunate position that we've got a really high performing vaccine."

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