20 May 2021

Covid-19: Canterbury runs low on vaccines as distribution trouble hits

6:55 am on 20 May 2021

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout has hit a major hurdle in Canterbury - there is not enough vaccine to start injecting the over 65s until July - months behind schedule.

Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 disease vaccine are displayed at the regional corona vaccination centre in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on January 22, 2021.

National says the government should have been more aggressive when it negotiated the supply agreement with Pfizer. Photo: AFP

Under the government's national plan, Group 3 - those over 65 or at high risk of serious harm from the virus - were initially due to start being vaccinated in May, then that was changed to the end of May.

But the Canterbury District Health Board website said it would not start that group until July.

In correspondence seen by RNZ, it said that was because it did not have enough doses of the vaccine to start them before then.

It also said it did not have enough to finish its border workers and frontline health staff - the two highest priority groups - by July.

Christchurch GP Pippa Mackay had not been told about the new July start date and was frustrated because she had been telling her older patients they could get a jab from June.

The communication from the DHBs had to improve - especially to doctors, she said.

"We're not really sure quite what's happening and how it's happening. I know no more than I can read on a flyer or in the paper about what's happening in our region here," she said.

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said people in Group 3 in Canterbury would be watching others around the country getting vaccinated while they waited, and may even start after the wider population in some areas.

Canterbury was exceeding the overall targets, set by each DHB, on the number of vaccines it delivered each week - reaching more than 41,000 people so far.

Bishop said the problem was supply - it did not have enough vaccines to keep up with the priorities.

The government should have been more aggressive when it negotiated the supply agreement with Pfizer, he said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had been open about the fact that the vaccine would come in smaller batches in the first half of the year.

"There is a constrained supply of vaccines at the moment. Canterbury have done very well, they have been ahead of what they've been budgeted ... but supply is limited until we get to July," he said.

There were currently 350,000 doses in the national stockpile.

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