Opinion: The 'high risk' group who should know when they're getting vaccinated - but don't, and neither does the Health Ministry

Opinion: The 1.7 million New Zealanders at high risk of getting very sick or dying from COVID19 should know by now when they can expect to be vaccinated - but most of them don’t.

They’re those over 65 or with underlying health conditions - known to the Ministry of Health as Group 3.

Originally the Ministry said they’d be vaccinated in May. Then it became "late May". And now late May is here, they’re refusing to say when it will happen. 

And if you think you can just ask your DHB, think again. I’ve asked every DHB in the country when their Group 3 jabs will begin. Most of them refused to say - directing me back to the Ministry.

But the Ministry’s not telling. It did say Group 3 vaccinations will be underway this month or in June "as planned". June has never been part of the plan. To get more information, I was told to go through the cumbersome and time-consuming Official Information Act process.

Eventually, I was given clarity about why it was so difficult to get basic information. The answer: The Ministry doesn’t have the information. "We’re actively working with all DHBs to finalise the same information you’re seeking," a spokesperson said.

Some DHBs were happy to share when their Group 3 jabs would begin. Whanganui has just started Group 3, Tairawhiti DHB starts on Monday, and South Canterbury will begin its Group 3 immunisations on May 31. Taranaki will have to wait a bit longer - the end of June. 

But the bulk of the vulnerable Kiwis in Group 3, could be waiting until June, or July... or even later - Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins admitted as much on Wednesday. He said then some older New Zealanders will get their injection invites in July – at the same time the general population is supposed to be lining up at sports stadiums for theirs.

One would have assumed vaccination start dates for nearly two million at risk people amid a pandemic would be known and widely communicated.

The Ministry said we should learn more next week, but at this point in our vaccination programme, it should be clear what’s going on. I know doctors are getting a lot of questions about timing from their more senior patients, but GPs are also in a difficult position – they too are in the dark.

The timing for Group 3 remains the big unknown. 

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