Government to create 'national significance' vaccine category, but no promises given to Blackcaps

New Zealand's COVID-19 immunisation programme is slowly picking up pace, with about a third of our border workers and their families having received their first dose. 

"Every New Zealander will be able to get a vaccine and the vaccine will be free," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday, announcing the Government's vaccine rollout plan. 

We now have enough in the country to vaccinate 130,000 Kiwis - with two jabs each. Large-scale vaccination facilities are popping up. There's a priority queue, and at the front are our more vulnerable. 

"New Zealanders most at risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, and those most at risk of getting seriously sick from it" will be prioritised for jabs, Hipkins said. 

After the border workers are vaccinated, we move to health workers, as well as those working and living in rest homes - the scene of our deadliest cluster.

"We've seen the devastating impact that outbreaks in residential care facilities can have here and overseas," Hipkins said. 

And because they're close to the border, south Aucklanders who are elderly or have underlying health conditions will receive vaccines from the end of March. 

From May, a further 1.7 million will get access to vaccines - the rest of the elderly population and those with health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, chronic lung diseases like asthma, kidney disease, cancer and pregnancy. 

"The vast majority of our COVID deaths have been people aged over 65 and we do note that is a critical group to get vaccinated early," Hipkins said. 

When it comes to the rest, the Government is working on a booking system and is also considering whether to vaccinate region by region at large-scale events, perhaps like the pop-up testing stations. 

"At the peak we will need hundreds, if not 1 or 2000 additional vaccinators, and it may well be we used them or a portion of them in regions to do those larger-scale events," said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

There are some outside the priority groups that may be able to jump the queue. Our Olympians have been asking for vaccines before they fly to compete, as have the Blackcaps.

The Government will create special compassionate and 'national significance' categories, but it hasn't released the criteria yet. 

"The bar to access a vaccine under those criteria will be a very high one," Hipkins said. 

Dr Bloomfield was personally asked to go into bat for the Blackcap. He was invited into the changing room to meet his cricketing idols and chat about vaccine access.

"I was probably a bit star-struck," Dr Bloomfield told a parliamentary committee. 

So starstruck he's forgotten who asked for fast-tracked jabs.

"Oh actually, I don't remember exactly," he told Newshub. "It was just one of the things that came up in conversation."

But does remember he played it straight. 

"I couldn't make any promises or decisions. What I said was 'OK, thank you for raising it, and I'll take that back'," Dr Bloomfield said.