Coronavirus: Struggle to find people who want vaccine will 'help us learn' - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's not ready to write off this weekend's COVID-19 mass vaccination event as a failure before it's even happened. 

Health authorities struggled to fill the Manukau event's 15,000 slots, with fewer than a quarter of those initially invited signing up. It took another 140,000 invites to Aucklanders - some not in priority groups or even from the south Auckland area - to book it out. 

"I think it is always disappointing when something that you've planned for doesn't get the response that you were hoping for," Alex Pimm, head of the event, told RNZ

The poor initial response has raised concerns Kiwis aren't taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough, particularly with the Delta variant "only a plane flight away" as NIkki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, told The AM Show on Wednesday.

Ardern, introducing the next phase of the vaccine rollout at the Te Awa vaccination centre in Hamilton, said she wasn't concerned about the struggle to get people on board.

"This is our first mass vaccination event, so we've really been running it as a trial. Part of that trial is finding the best way to reach people. Not everyone necessarily is going to respond to something they receive through their mailbox. 

"We are thinking about different ways that we can communicate a mass vaccination event. But the important thing is we are now a little oversubscribed for the event, which was intentional, and this will help us learn for future events." 

One local doctor told RNZ on Tuesday the event would be seen as "boring" for south Aucklanders, suggesting turning it into something "like a festival where people come along with their friends, can listen to a bit of music, or watch a bit of entertainment or dancing". 

When announced in mid-July, co-organiser Manukau Institute of Technology said the event would remove "barriers to accessibility for Māori, Pasifika and our South Auckland community", but would also "help inform the planning of future events".  

Asked if the event, to be held at the Vodafone Events Centre, was a "cultural fail" Ardern said no.

"As I say, this is our first mass vaccination event. We've got over 15,000 people booked for the event. We'll learn from this one… see what worked well, what do we need to do differently to attract in those that we really want to make sure that we're targeting.

"But it is a first, and so we always intended to learn as we go. We're certainly not writing off an event that hasn't happened yet." 

Ardern with Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall.
Ardern with Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall. Photo credit: Newshub.

Ardern also said from Wednesday, people aged 60 and over would now be eligible to book in for a jab, though just how soon they can get it would depend on availability in their local DHB region. Bookings can be made online at or by calling 0800 28 29 26 between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week.

She said new shipments from Pfizer have just arrived - 350,000 doses on Tuesday - and 1.5 million more will arrive in August, more than twice the entire number that were delivered in the first half of the year. 

So far 1.7 million doses have been given, with 699,479 fully vaccinated. In the past week there have been 204,000 doses given, including 38,000 on Tuesday - a record. 

There are now 676 vaccination sites operating, with more to come on board in the coming weeks, Ardern said - refusing to apologise for the speed of the rollout, as Australia's Scott Morrison did - despite their rollout being ahead of ours, in terms of doses per capita.

"RIght at the beginning of the year we said that this would be the year of the vaccine campaign, that this would be the largest undertaking of our health system that we have ever seen," said Ardern. "And so far, we are running according to our plans."