Grant Robertson tells the world Kiwis 'understood' why other nations got COVID-19 vaccines first

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has shared his belief with the world that Kiwis "understood" why other nations got COVID-19 vaccines before us. 

Speaking to a webinar hosted by Fitch Ratings, one of the 'Big Three' American credit rating agencies, Robertson said New Zealand was "able to take quite a different approach" to vaccine rollout than other countries. 

"Obviously in other countries around the world there's been this huge imperative to get people vaccinated to try and slow down the terrible toll that it's taking," Robertson said. 

"New Zealanders, I think, have understood that there are other countries for whom it was more important that their vaccination programme started immediately, but many of those countries will spend a lot longer vaccinating their whole population than we will."

The webinar moderator Stephen Schwartz, head of sovereign ratings for Asia-Pacific at Fitch Ratings, sung New Zealand's praise. 

"You've been spectacularly successful in containing the virus domestically," he told Robertson. "That's in a sense taken the premium off of a quick vaccine rollout."

Schwartz quoted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has often emphasised her belief that it's not the beginning of the vaccine rollout that matters, but "when you finish".  

"The Prime Minister, that's her phrase, so I better not steal it," Robertson laughed. "We believe we will be finished with everybody who wants to be vaccinated before the end of the year and that then opens up options for us about how we reconnect with the rest of the world."

The Government's COVID-19 vaccine rollout has come under scrutiny from National and ACT for being too slow. Earlier this week Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Index ranked Singapore ahead of New Zealand for the first time, thanks to its faster jab distribution. 

While New Zealand has only recorded a single death to COVID-19 in the past six months, having eliminated community transmission, it has only vaccinated about 2 percent of the population compared to almost 20 percent in Singapore. 

"It's something we don't take for granted by any means. New Zealanders have worked very hard to be in a position where we've been able to live relatively normally and so keeping New Zealanders safe from COVID is still our number one priority as a Government," Robertson said. 

"But the vaccine's obviously very important in that."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson spoke on a webinar moderated by Stephen Scwartz, head of sovereign ratings for Asia-Pacific at Fitch Ratings.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson spoke on a webinar moderated by Stephen Scwartz, head of sovereign ratings for Asia-Pacific at Fitch Ratings. Photo credit: Fitch Ratings

There are signs the vaccine rollout is picking up pace in New Zealand. The latest Ministry of Health rollout update shows it's now slightly ahead of schedule after slipping behind.  

The update shows some District Health Boards (DHBs) are handling the rollout better than others. Northland, for example, is only at 62 percent of its rollout plan while Nelson Marlborough is at 143 percent. 

Ardern argued on Thursday that taken as a collective, DHBs are exceeding expectations. 

"What we're seeing are specific challenges within different District Health Boards and that is not surprising," she said. "Some District Health Boards have rural isolation issues to overcome as part of their rollout."

Ardern also argued the slower pace of the vaccine rollout has given Kiwis more time to build trust. The Government is distributing pamphlets with information about the Pfizer jab ahead of the general population distribution in July. 

"That's given people time to become comfortable with the vaccine. We've put it through all the independent processes we need, but that extra time I think has definitely started - and we're seeing this in some of our research - reduce down some of the hesitancy that may have existed."