20 Apr 2021

The road bumps in our vaccination rollout

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 20 April 2021
Claire holds a welcome sign as she waits at Auckland Airport for her grandparents, to come through the arrivals gate from the  Sydney to Auckland flight.

Welcome back! Trans-Tasman bubble flights started yesterday.  Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

On the week that our travel bubble opens up with Australia, both sides of the Tasman have been criticised for falling behind in their vaccine rollouts.

New Zealand's plans have been called shambolic, Australia's a failure.

"Testing and vaccination systems have to be as robust as possible, especially given the new regime with Australia," says NZ Herald political reporter Derek Cheng.

Cheng says it is too soon to know if there are serious cracks in the system or mere hiccups, but the roll out so far has been marred by poor data details, holes in the testing and vaccination plans in MIQ - the startling revelations that a security guard with Covid-19 had not been tested since November - as well as worries about a shortage of workers to carry out the mass vaccination in two months.

Today, Cheng explains to The Detail the politics behind the roll out, while RNZ's health correspondent Rowan Quinn outlines the logistics.

Quinn says the Ministry is in charge of the rollout but the 20 District Health Boards are individually responsible for a vaccination plan for their area.

"It is quite a fractured health system, there are all these DHBs and they're all doing things in a slightly different way. We had a really clunky old vaccination register ... that was terrible and that contributed to the problems with the measles epidemic here a couple of years ago.

Chris Hipkins gets his first jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

Chris Hipkins gets his first jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"So suddenly they're having to scale up and build a whole new IT system, to track who is being registered."

New Zealand is the second lowest in the OECD in terms of the number of Covid-19 vaccines administered, according to a CNN report that looks at the pace of the mass vaccination campaigns around the world. Latest figures show more than 135,000 doses have been given out, including 105,000 people getting their first dose and the remainder getting two doses.

CNN points out that the US and UK are "leading the world, while some Asia-Pacific countries that won praise for containing the virus are lagging".

Cheng says independent experts are happy with the pace of the rollout but "it’s getting everything lined up by July to reach goals that is the big challenge. We had issues last year with the flu jab, before that the measles, we've had GPs saying ‘we don't know what our role is yet’.

"There is certainly an impression the government is scrambling on issues as they come up."

Quinn says the different DHBs have different challenges.

"For example Counties Manukau, working with all the Auckland health boards, have a whole lot of border staff here, they've got the airport, they've got a lot of MIQ workers."

Plans include super clinics in places such as Eden Park where hundreds of people can be vaccinated in a day. Some clinics are also looking at drive-through vaccinations where people stay in their cars.

By contrast, Tairāwhiti DHB on the East Coast will be using a mobile clinic to reach small populations spread across many remote communities.

"They're planning to go to all these little towns around that thumb of the East Coast there, vaccinate the whole town in a day or two and then move onto the next one."

Quinn says once the new IT system is running, people will be able to log in and make appointments or they will receive letters or emails.

She tells The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly that a group of Auckland clinicians are meeting with Ministry of Health officials this week to tackle concerns about vaccinator shortages and the role of GPs in the rollout.