NZ waiting on Pfizer for more vaccine

·2-min read

Despite Taiwan and Melbourne singing cautionary tales, New Zealand health officials admit they are powerless to speed up their COVID-19 vaccination program.

Fewer than four per cent of Kiwis have been fully vaccinated against the virus according to new data released by the Ministry of Health on Sunday.

That's actually ahead of the government's planning, at 108 per cent of its advertised goal.

As of this week 371,043 people - roughly seven per cent of Kiwis - have received their first jab of the two-course Pfizer program.

Just 191,106 Kiwis have been fully vaccinated, ranking NZ 115th in the world according to Newsroom.

The government's plan is so slow-starting, it leaves NZ at a crucial moment of vulnerability should the virus penetrate the country's border regime.

Over the last month, cases in Taiwan - seen as a global standard-bearer in keeping the virus out - have surged from a handful each day to hundreds.

Australians are now anxiously hoping that Melbourne's smattering of cases doesn't turn into another major outbreak.

Both places have had sluggish vaccine rollouts, well below the global average.

NZ's vaccination program began in February with a targeted rollout to border workers, health professionals, especially vulnerable groups and their close contacts.

The mass rollout is due to begin in July, but COVID-19 Minster Chris Hipkins said that was conditional on shipments of the vaccine arriving.

"We haven't got a confirmed delivery schedule from Pfizer yet for post the first of July," he said.

"We're expecting in the first week of June to get an understanding of what's happening. We're in the same position as a lot of other countries.

"Everyone is leaning on Pfizer. Not just New Zealand. They are committed to honouring the contractual agreements. I have trust that they will do that."

Capacity in health system is the main reason NZ is starting the vaccination process slowly before a rapid expansion from July this year.

This week, the government was caught out quietly tweaking timings for the general rollout from July to "late July" on the COVID-19 website, without announcing.

"July is July. It will still be from July," Mr Hipkins said, denying a delay.

In response to the new Melbourne cases, NZ put a 72-hour suspension on anyone in Victoria travelling across the border, as of 8pm on Tuesday.

"That was a proportionate and appropriately precautionary response to keep COVID-19 out of New Zealand," Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

About 10,000 emails had been sent by health officials to recent arrivals from Victoria to check for symptoms.

Two people reported they had been to a location of interest; both returned negative tests.

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