National's deputy Shane Reti 'happy to help' Jacinda Ardern get public COVID-19 vaccination

National's deputy leader Dr Shane Reti is "happy to help" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern get vaccinated against COVID-19 publicly to ease uncertainties about its safety. 

"I could vaccinate the Prime Minister," Dr Reti, a registered general practitioner, told Magic Talk on Monday, days after frontline New Zealanders received the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech jabs in their arms at the weekend. 

"Whether she would ask me to or let me is a different question," Dr Reti laughed, pointing out that he is "one of the few prescribing doctors" in Parliament. "I'd be happy to help whoever I can."

The former Northland Health Board member, who worked as a GP in Whāngārei for 20 years, said he will be lining up to receive the vaccine when it's available. 

"If and when I'm fortunate enough to be offered the vaccine, with the information I've seen and what I've read and what I understand, I will receive the vaccine - I will accept the vaccine and I will be recommending it to others as well."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was given provisional approval by New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe earlier this month. It's one of four vaccines the Government has invested in. 

The first frontline workers to receive the Pfizer vaccine included family support worker Lynette Faiva, operations manager Drew Leafa and admin worker Lorna Masoe, who all work at Auckland's Jet Park Hotel - the Government's official COVID-19 quarantine facility. 

"This is an important first step and we will be moving through these first few days and weeks in a measured way to make sure our systems and processes are solid," said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

The roll-out will begin at managed isolation facilities in Wellington on Monday and in Christchurch on Wednesday, before starting to vaccinate the rest of New Zealand's about 12,000 border workers over the next few weeks. 

National's deputy leader Shane Reti.
National's deputy leader Shane Reti. Photo credit: Getty

Dr Reti's suggestion to vaccinate the Prime Minister in a public display comes after her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison received his at the weekend in Sydney for all to see. He was one the first Australians to receive it. 

Morrison's jab was televised on Sunday in order to help boost confidence in the vaccine roll-out across Australia. Ardern is open to doing the same, but feels that border workers should be prioritised first. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison receiving COVID-19 vaccine in Sydney.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison receiving COVID-19 vaccine in Sydney. Photo credit: Getty

"In my view actually it's the people who are at the frontline who are at the greatest risk - not me - and so I want them protected first," Ardern told The AM Show on Monday.  

"But equally, I would also want to send a message that it is safe and that we've gone through all the processes. I can tell you I will absolutely be getting a vaccine. I am happy to do it publicly but I'll wait a little bit. 

"I'm not exposed in the same way that those who work across our managed isolation facilities are exposed. I've got a family member who works in that cohort and absolutely they are the ones who should be first and foremost."

Dr Reti agreed with Ardern's position. 

"I think we should follow the priority process - those who are in the greatest need should receive it first and then if there is a profile moment within that priority process, it reassures New Zealanders that as far as we can tell it's safe, yes take that opportunity."

National's deputy leader Shane Reti suggests he could vaccinate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern against COVID-19.
National's deputy leader Shane Reti suggests he could vaccinate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern against COVID-19. Photo credit: Newshub / The AM Show

Dr Reti suggested the Government be praised for its handling of COVID-19 vaccines so far.

"Why would you want to fire shots if what's happening is a good thing? We've been able to vaccinate our border workers - that's a marvellous thing. If we can then vaccinate our frontline health workers that's a marvellous thing," he said. 

"Lucky us, let's get underway and vaccinate our border workers. How we vaccinate the wider part of the New Zealand population and making sure we've got vaccines here on time, that's a challenge we've still got to confront."

The general population is expected to start receiving vaccines from July, and Dr Reti said there is "significant infrastructure" required for a successful roll-out. 

"We've got a new IT system to record all these vaccines and that may seem a trivial matter, but for me to give a vaccine takes me 60 seconds; to actually data-enter that information takes me 15 or 20 minutes afterwards and you're entering where you gave the vaccine, what anatomical site, the expiry number - a whole range of data," he said. 

"If the IT system behind the vaccine data doesn't stand up then we're in trouble... This is part of the infrastructure we need to have really well imbedded, tested and in place before we come to the general population roll-out."

Dr Reti expects COVID-19 vaccines will be rolled out annually like flu jabs. He said the vaccines will be adapted to keep up with virus mutations.