Vulnerable elderly clamouring to be first in line for COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand

New Zealand isn't moving at quite the same pace as the UK - the earliest we'll see a vaccine is probably next March, but those working with our vulnerable elderly are already clamouring to be first in line.

The horror of COVID-19 came into stark focus at rest homes in New Zealand. It swept through Rosewood in Christchurch, taking 12 lives, and saw the elderly separated from loved ones. 

"The anxiety that our older people experience is because they haven't been able to see their families during the lockdowns that we have had," says Simon Wallace, chief executive of the NZ Aged Care Association. 

A vaccine couldn't come soon enough for the elderly and those caring for them. 

"We need to see that our residents - our 40,000 residents in rest homes and the 30,000 staff that care for them - are top priority for the vaccine," says Wallace. 

A vaccine is likely to come from overseas. The Government isn't relying on New Zealand's own development in the short to medium term. It has signed agreements for two vaccines - Pfizer and Janssen, and the Government is keen to buy more.

Once they get Medsafe approval, front line workers will get priority.

"Border workers, aged care workers [and] those who are more at risk or those who are more at risk of an adverse effect of getting COVID-19, of course, will be near the top of the list," says COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. 

The Janssen vaccine probably won't arrive until September. The Pfizer one could be here by March - but it's more complicated because it requires two doses and needs to be stored at -70C. 

"We are buying new freezers and so on to make sure we are ready," Hipkins says. 

The United Kingdom is moving with much more urgency. But Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a senior lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care at the University of Auckland, says it's a different scenario in the UK.  

"We don't have the same situation here, we don't have lots of people dying; we can go freely about our business in New Zealand, so we are in a really different situation," she told Newshub. 

The Government came under heavy criticism from medical professionals for the botched rollout of its flu vaccine this year - they weren't getting where they needed to be.

But Hipkins promises the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be smoother. 

"We have been working really hard to make sure supply chains are all in place, the distribution is there so we can get the vaccines out and around the country."