Plans to prioritise hard-hit south Auckland in New Zealand’s vaccination rollout have been welcomed by experts – though cricketers hoping to head for the UK will have to wait for clarity.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that vaccinations over the next three to four months would go to the two million New Zealanders who were “most at risk of getting or spreading Covid-19, or getting seriously sick from it”.
Hipkins said this “targeted” approach was designed to minimise the risk of future coronavirus outbreaks, as well as protecting the elderly and other at-risk groups.
South Auckland has been at the centre of two outbreaks in recent months, the latest of which led to a week-long lockdown in the city.
Residents of the area aged over 65 or those with underlying health conditions would begin being vaccinated from the end of March. Many of the 18,000 border force workers and their families who have already had their first dose are also based in south Auckland.
In comments to the Science Media Centre, Dr Collin Tukuitonga of the University of Auckland’s faculty of medical and health sciences, said it was “fantastic” that South Auckland had been recognised as a priority.
“We’ve been lobbying for this to happen for some weeks now. While we do this because we recognise the risk for the communities in south Auckland, they are also adjacent to the airport, so there is a risk of an outbreak to everyone else in the country too – so prioritising south Auckland residents with these conditions and ages will be good for everyone.”
Tukuitonga said the decision to vaccinate only those at risk in South Auckland, instead of the whole population, was a “pragmatic response to limited vaccine supply”. He said allocating 40,000 courses to Māori and Pacific providers was “fantastic”.
“I know from experience that Pacific medical providers have predominantly Pacific patients, so it will improve the chances of the vaccine being delivered to those people that often have difficulty accessing health services.”
New Zealanders in residential care facilities would start to get their vaccinations later this month, before of all New Zealanders aged 65 or over from May.
Two special categories were still being considered by the government, said Hipkins: one for people who may need to get the vaccine on compassionate grounds, and one recognising “national significance” category, which could include diplomats, athletes or others seeking to represent New Zealand overseas.
“But I want to be clear here: these will be quite small groups of people. It’s not going to be a backdoor way for people to push themselves up the queue.”
Hipkins declined to comment on whether New Zealand’s cricket team could be made a priority following confirmation by Stuff that Cricket New Zealand made inquiries about bumping the Black Caps up the queue ahead of the World Test Championship.
The team are due to be leave New Zealand in May ahead of games in England and India, two global hotspots for the virus. Hipkins said a decision would be announced in the next fortnight.
Hipkins said that the order of 8.5m doses of the Pfizer vaccine announced on Monday had enabled the government to vaccinate the entire population, though he warned that the dates and sequencing of the rollout could change with vaccine supply.
Sover 265,000 doses had been received, including a fourth shipment on Tuesday.
Every New Zealander should be able to get a free vaccine after July, Hipkins said, though those logistics were to be determined. “Our plan is to have as many people as possible vaccinated by the end of the year…
“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect whānau, their lives and their livelihoods. The biggest factor in lifting Covid-19 restrictions will be timely and high uptake of vaccines.”
The plan follows a survey by global company Ipsos on Wednesday suggested that only 51% of New Zealanders said they were likely to get the jab; 18% said it was likely and 24% were unsure. That latter group said they were concerned about vaccines moving through clinical trials too quickly, and the potential side effects.
Ipsos New Zealand public affairs research director, Amanda Dudding, told Radio New Zealand that just making the vaccine available for all New Zealanders would not be enough – the government would need to reassure people that it was safe and effective.
A public health campaign is due in the coming months.