22 Jul 2021

Concerns over 'rush' to vaccinate group 4 while coverage of vulnerable groups low

12:29 pm on 22 July 2021

The government is pressing ahead with plans to vaccinate the general population against Covid-19 even though only 20 percent of those in the vulnerable group three have had their first dose.

Covid-19 vaccination generic.

By estimations only 12 percent of group 3 are fully vaccinated. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

RNZ's analysis of vaccination data shows more than 2 million doses still need to be given to those over 65 or with underlying health conditions.

There is a dearth of good information relating to the vaccine rollout. But by collating Ministry of Health data on the number of vaccines administered by each district health board to the various eligibility groups and obtaining group three estimates from each DHB, we now have a snapshot of the rollout's progress to date.

Next Wednesday the first cohort of group four - those aged 60 and over - will be invited to book their Covid-19 shots.

The government set the date back in March.

But some doctors fear it is too rushed with so many more vulnerable people still unvaccinated.

Based on DHB figures and population estimates only 12 percent of group 3, or about 180,000 people, are fully inoculated.

Only one in five had received their first dose.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins defended the approach, saying there would be enough vaccines for everyone by the end of the year.

Group 3 related to anyone who was over 65 or living with a disability or underlying health conditions - in essence the most at-risk of serious symptoms or death as a result of Covid-19 infection.

GP Dr Rawiri Jansen said he was worried by the government's haste to maintain its vaccine rollout timelines.

"In the rush to get to group four we might end up swamping out a group that deserves to be prioritised, ought to be prioritised, that are more vulnerable and more at-risk, so it troubles me that there is a rush to go to group 4," he said.

He was also concerned the government was turning its back on the science when it came to allocating vaccines to Māori and Pasifika who were under 65.

"The evidence from Te Pūnaha Matatini ... is clear that the age equivalent risk for Māori is 21 years younger. So a 65-year-old pākehā has the same risk as a 44-year-old Māori person. There's the evidence, there's the science - we should be following that science and adjusting our programme to match."

Other countries had taken steps to prioritise vulnerable indigenous populations that New Zealand had not, he said.

Grey Power national health advisory group chairperson Jo Millar said she was worried that as the vaccine rolls out to group 4, more older people would miss out.

"People are people and they look after themselves first and we've had queue jumpers from group four already being vaccinated and, to be honest with you, our generation doesn't push forward, we do sit back and wait our turn, and we've probably waited for our turn a bit too long."

More than 120,000 doses had already been administered to those in group 4, though there were numerous reasons why that might have occurred, such as sharing a household with those on the frontline of the fight to keep covid out of the country or a person vulnerable to the disease.

The data also showed the worst performing areas for vaccinating group three were Taranaki and Canterbury - where fewer than 10 percent of their estimated group three population had received their first dose.

Only about 3 percent had been fully inoculated with two doses.

In Wellington that figure was 5 percent, Waikato was slightly ahead 8 and Auckland sat on 9 percent.

Miller said she had requested data from the Ministry of Health to show where elderly populations were being missed, but would only get that information next week.

"If I find ... that's a very low percentage, I will be asking can we have a delay of group four for a week or two weeks until we get caught up on the group three ones. It's absolutely important that group three get vaccinated first."

Wellington doctor Bryan Betty, who was also the College of General Practitioners medical director, was worried about those low vaccination figures for group three and how slowly the campaign had been rolled out.

"I'd have to say it has been frustrating at times. GPs have been brought into the picture relatively late and things are scaling up at this point, so there have been some issues in terms of how GPs have been engaged and what's actually gone on in terms of getting them up to speed on Covid vaccination."

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins defended the government's approach.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone / Vinay Ranchhod

Allowing group 4 to join the vaccine booking system from next week would keep demand high and was not about sticking to the timeline set back in March, he said.

"The numbers of people in group 3 that have been vaccinated across the country will be uneven, some areas have moved faster through group 3 than others.

"What we want to do though is keep the overall vaccine programme moving forward on a nationally co-ordinated basis, so we will be opening up group four booking for everybody at the same time. Having said that some people in some parts of the country will have to wait a little bit longer."

The rollout was going as fast as possible and there would be enough vaccine for everyone by the end of the year, he said.

The government was also offering an 0800 number from this weekend for those in group three to make contact and get their vaccinations booked if they had not already been contacted.

There were about 700,000 people booked into the system at present, Hipkins said.

When asked if he was comfortable that the right people had been prioritised at the right time, Hipkins responded with one word - "yes".

National worried about lockdown due to low vaccination numbers

National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop is accusing the government of trying to avoid headlines about vaccine delays, by pushing ahead with vaccinations for the general population.

"I'm very worried about it," he said.

Bishop told Morning Report he wanted as many people as possible to get vaccinated, but older, more vulnerable people should receive the injection first.

"Particularly Canterbury for example which has an MIQ facility, a port ... the [vaccination] numbers there are just shocking."

He said the country was one incident away from community transmission.

"We are a sitting duck for Delta [Covid-19 variant]."

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