Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends lag in New Zealand COVID-19 vaccine rate

The Prime Minister is defending a lag in the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, highlighting how New Zealand is not in as desperate a situation as some other countries. 

The Ministry of Health published statistics about the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in New Zealand on Wednesday, showing the number of jabs administered so far sits at about 95 percent against the Government's plan. 

Nearly every other country in the OECD is now ahead of New Zealand with their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, with just Japan behind us. It's got National "deeply concerned" for Kiwis while ACT worries about whether we'll meet our targets. 

"Australia has recently been criticised for the slow pace of its vaccine rollout, but New Zealand is even worse and there's no sign we're picking up the pace," says National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop. 

"As more countries vaccinate their populations New Zealand risks being left behind. They will start opening up trade and travel to each other while we, a country where our prosperity depends on international connections, will lag behind."

ACT leader David Seymour says New Zealand has been left "terribly exposed as a slow vaccinating outlier" among developed countries. He asked Ardern in Parliament on Wednesday to explain why New Zealand had fallen behind. 

"At the moment it is fair to say our vaccination rates over Easter were low. Obviously the public holiday impacted. We're hoping to see that catch-up occur in the coming weeks," Ardern said in Parliament. 

"The whole plan though has been designed to see an ongoing uptick in daily vaccination rates, until you see at its peak when we get into the wider population significant numbers on a daily basis."

The Ministry of Health data shows more than 90,000 doses of vaccine have been administered so far in New Zealand - that's about 1.9 doses per 100 people. Only 19,273 are second doses - meaning that person is fully vaccinated. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went head-to-head with ACT leader David Seymour in Parliament.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went head-to-head with ACT leader David Seymour in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

Ardern said one of the complicating factors is the Government chose to rely on one vaccine - Pfizer/BioNTech - for all New Zealanders, rather than multiple vaccines, like other countries have done. 

Last month the Government purchased an additional 8.5 million Pfizer jabs, 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. 

The additional Pfizer doses meant every New Zealander would be able to get two doses of the same vaccine, avoiding multiple vaccine protocols. It also means we don't have to worry about complications reported overseas with the AstraZeneca jab. 

"The Government's decision to switch to a predominantly Pfizer vaccination campaign relying on one of the safest and most effective vaccines on the market, is one of the reason why we're having to wait until the second half of the year to make the vaccine available to the bulk of the New Zealand population," said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. 

Seymour asked Ardern if the reason we're behind other countries in getting hold of vaccines is because we secured pre-purchase arrangements later. 

For example, it was in mid- and late-May, respectively, when the UK and the US cemented their first vaccine deals, while New Zealand secured its first 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccine in October. 

"Countries are working incredibly hard to vaccinate their populations so that they can get normality back in their lives. They are working very hard to get what New Zealanders, for the most part, already have," Ardern said. 

"That means that when it comes to our advance purchase arrangements but delivery against them, Australia and New Zealand have very openly acknowledged the pressures are very different to other countries.

"People are literally not dying while they wait. That means delivery has been different."

Ardern assured Parliament the Government is still on track to start vaccinating the general public from July as promised.