Coronavirus: Palmerston North rest home residents still six weeks from being vaccinated as trans-Tasman bubble opens

Aged care representatives say it's disappointing quarantine-free travel is underway while some of the country's most vulnerable continue to wait for the vaccine.

Newshub understands rest home residents in Palmerston North will be among the last in the aged care sector to receive the crucial jabs.

The bubble marks a milestone, but it's adding to anxiety for the owner of Palmerston North's Cook Street Nursing Care Centre and registered nurse Anna Blackwell. 

"I thought that when we first got the plan, that aged care was going to be a priority for the Ministry of Health - and it's disappointing that that hasn't been how it is."

Newshub understands the vaccine rollout in the aged care sector is highly variable. 

The Nelson-Marlborough region started COVID vaccines for residents on March 31 - it leads the way - while in Metro Auckland, shots for residents began on Monday. 

But in Rotorua, residents will have to wait until May 10 and in Mid-Central, which includes Palmerston North, it's understood residents have to wait until May 31. 

"It feels a little bit shambolic," says Blackwell.

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Simon Wallace, Aged Care Association CEO, says his members have been planning for vaccines for months.

"We are concerned that given we have 450,000 vaccines in the country, that it's taking to the end of May in one particular region before our residents are going to be vaccinated," he told Newshub.

"We are ready to go and we are waiting. We are disappointed that there have been these delays."

Newshub asked the Health Ministry why Palmerston North was at the bottom of the list.

It's been unable to provide an answer to that specific question, but said DHBs are making pragmatic decisions, and elderly in Manawatu are not in danger of missing out. 

The risk of Australian travellers bringing COVID-19 here is considered low, with managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) seen as the biggest threat. 

"If you look at our MIQ facilities, we've been having cases leak out of those facilities roughly once a month," said Michael Plank, Maths and Stats Professor at Canterbury University.

If there's an outbreak, the advice is clear: suspend travel. But to know if there's an outbreak, Prof Plank says we must remain vigilant. 

"It'll be critical that both countries, Australia and New Zealand, have really good testing systems."

Data analysts only began looking at MIQ testing data two weeks ago, and the exact number of border workers is unknown. 

"I think it's a problem if we cannot identify the workforce who are exposed at the borders, and also know what proportion of them are tested and vaccinated," said Professor Michael Baker, Otago University epidemiologist.

But Professor Baker says the green zone with Australia has significant benefits. 

"This is a model which could be applied globally," he said.

And his advice for anyone visiting vulnerable people: be extremely cautious if you have any symptoms.