Coronavirus: 60 percent of group labelled 'high-risk' still yet to get first COVID-19 vaccine dose

Newshub can reveal just over 60 percent of a group labelled 'high-risk' by the Government are yet to receive their first vaccination to protect them against COVID-19. 

They include frontline health workers, those in long-term care, and older Māori and Pacific people. 

And only half of another high-risk group - those who live with border workers or managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) employees - have received their first jab.

Two leading epidemiologists say it's not good enough.

When it comes to getting vaccinated against the virus, the public messaging has been clear: we're exceeding Government goals and doing well. 

"Our plan to vaccinate New Zealanders is on track," Dr Ayesha Verrall, the Associate Health Minister, told reporters on Wednesday.

But Newshub has obtained Ministry of Health data that tells a different story when it comes to some of our highest-risk groups. 

"I think we've seen a lot of self-congratulatory talk by the Government," said Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson.

"We should be really pushing the vaccination programme at a much faster rate."

An estimated 50,000 people have been categorised in Group 1B - these are household members of border and MIQ workers. Ministry figures show around 50 percent have not even had their first shot.

"That is unfortunately way too low," Prof Wilson says.

His colleague, Otago University Professor Michael Baker, agrees. 

"It is a problem. I mean the reason that we've prioritised border workers and their families is that this adds to New Zealand's defences against the pandemic."

Then there's Group 2 - there are around 480,000 in this category. 

They include frontline health workers and those living or working in long-term residential care; older Māori and Pacific people or those living or caring for them; and people over 65 in Counties Manukau.

Around 60 percent of this group have not received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

"That really should be better at this stage of the vaccination campaign, which has been running since February," Prof Wilson said.

As for Group 3 - people over 65 - only 4 percent have had their first jab.

"We need to try very hard to get close to 100 percent coverage of Group 1, then work down Group 2 and Group 3. That's the reason we have priorities," Prof Wilson said.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Thursday he's happy with the progress. 

"I think what we're seeing is ongoing increased uptake amongst our priority groups."

However, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he wasn't comfortable with the numbers. 

"I think we'd always like to do better. As I've indicated before though - the big constraint here is supply."

He says the jab is voluntary for those high-risk groups. 

"It could be a degree of complacency. I don't sense there's a lot of hesitancy there though," Hipkins said.

If not hesitancy, it begs the question: why are the vaccination rates in these groups still so low?

The Government said on Wednesday it was 9 percent ahead of its vaccination target. The Health Ministry said the targets are set depending on how much of the vaccine is in the country. 

"By the end of June, the plan is to have delivered more than 1.1 million doses, in line with the confirmed Pfizer delivery schedule," a spokesperson told Newshub. 

Dr Bloomfield said another problem was that officials underestimated the number of border workers needing vaccinations, effectively slowing the rollout for others in Group 1B and Group 2. 

Epidemiologists say it's important more granular information, like the data revealed by Newshub, is made available to the public. 

The minister says from next week, a more detailed breakdown showing vaccination progress in the various high-risk groups will start to be provided.