COVID-19: Professor says Government's vaccine rollout plan is 'fundamentally good' but has gaps that could cause outbreak

A health professor says the Government's newly released COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan is "fundamentally good" but has gaps that could cause another outbreak. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the plan during a 1pm press conference on Wednesday. 

Kiwis have been broken up into four groups, depending on how at-risk they are and their priority for the vaccine. The majority of Kiwis are expected to be able to get the jab by August. 

Group 1 is made up of border and managed isolation and quarantine workers and their household contacts. Vaccinations began in February and the bulk are expected to be completed by the end of March, with at least one dose administered.

Group 2 has several subgroups which include frontline healthcare workers who could be exposed while providing care or could expose vulnerable people. It also includes at-risk people in settings with a high risk of transmission or exposure and anyone in the Counties Manukau area who is 65 and older or who has an underlying health condition. Vaccinations for Group 2 began in February and will continue through to May.

Group 3 includes anyone aged 65 and over and people with underlying health conditions or disabilities. The vaccinations for Group 3 are planned to start in May.

Group 4 is the remainder of the general New Zealand population. Vaccinations for Group 4 will start from July.

There are two further categories the Government is still looking at: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds, and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas.

Professor of public health at Otago University Nick Wilson said overall it's a good plan, but it could be stronger. 

"It is giving some balance to border protection and to protecting those at higher risk, particularly the elderly, but I think it could have been stronger in terms of border protection with offering a vaccine to all south Aucklanders at that Group 2 level."

"So rather than just south Aucklanders who are over 65 with underlying health conditions, we would have got a better deal with border protection if the whole of south Auckland was vaccinated," he told the AM Show on Friday. 

Wilson said the decision not to prioritise all of south Auckland could be due to complacency. 

"[The Government] thinks it has its borders protected by vaccinating border workers but unfortunately given the historical record of border failures and outbreaks, I am not confident that we can have none in the next few months."

He said overall the plan is "well designed" and is consistent with how subsided influenza vaccines are distributed. 

"Fundamentally I think it's good but it has this issue around really protecting south Auckland which has had a disproportionate number of outbreaks."

"It is where Auckland International Airport is, it's where a lot of MIQ facilities are so I think unfortunately the border protection aspect hasn't been prioritised and it is possibly because the Government has been falsely reassured by vaccinating border workers, which is very important but won't stop all the outbreaks." 

During Wednesday's press conference, Hipkins also stressed that the vaccine will be free for every New Zealander. 

It comes after the Government purchased an additional 8.5 million Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, bringing the total to 10 million - enough to vaccinate every New Zealander. 

The Government's original agreement with Pfizer was for approximately 1.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate 750,000 people. It also ordered 5 million from Janssen, 3.8 million from AstraZeneca and 5.36 million from Novavax. 

Minister Hipkins has been contacted for comment.