4 Mar 2021

Government criticised for 'rolling maul' vaccine strategy

6:41 am on 4 March 2021

Cabinet ministers have been sitting on advice regarding a nationwide vaccination schedule for weeks, but have yet to finalise or publish a complete plan.

A worker on the frontline of Auckland's Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility being vaccinated against Covid-19 on 20 February 2021.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

That's despite Australia unveiling an extensive framework almost two months ago, identifying various groups of the population and their order of priority.

Roughly 9,500 New Zealanders have so far received the jab, with border workers and their family members the first in line.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said frontline health and emergency workers would be up next, but further decisions had yet to be signed off by Cabinet.

The degree of prioritisation would depend chiefly on how many vaccines arrived and when, he said.

"As more vaccines become available, we'll release the information about how they'll be prioritised," Hipkins said.

"It will be a bit of a rolling maul."

Hipkins said he hoped to announce more information "shortly" about the next tier of people to receive the vaccine.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the ministry had given Cabinet advice on "a possible sequencing framework" several weeks ago.

Officials had recently updated their guidance given the latest research on specific risks, Dr Bloomfield said.

"It's clear that older age - over 65 - is a very serious risk factor for a poor outcome," he said.

"We've also got much more specific risk information about people with pre-exisiting conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

ACT leader David Seymour said it was clear Cabinet was making up the programme as it went along, revealing the outcome of its "vaccine lottery" bit by bit.

"This is insulting madness. The government needs to start treating us like grownups," Seymour said.

"If the government has a plan, people deserve to know it. And if the government doesn't have a plan, well, frankly, in a democracy, we deserve to know that too."

National's Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the government's strategy of "drip-feeding" details was disappointing.

"There's really no excuse for it. They've had more than enough time now to sort out the priority order."

College of GPs president Samantha Murton said the public deserved to know as much information as possible, but she understood it was not simple.

"Until we've got absolute confirmation of where those vaccines are coming and when and which ones, it's a bit tricky for us to go 'ta-da, here's the plan', because that plan might change over time."

In the past week, the Australian government debuted an online tool where Australians can check when they'll be eligible for a jab depending on their age, health, race, and occupation.

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