COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, Dr Ashley Bloomfield accused of 'hiding vaccination delays'

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has conceded that quietly changing information online about the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out "may not have been the best way". 

The Ministry of Health has updated when Group 4 - the general population - will be invited to receive Pfizer jabs. Its website now says they can get vaccinated from the "end of July", when a few days prior it simply said "from July". 

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government needs to be "far more upfront with New Zealanders" about the progress of the vaccine programme. 

"If there are going to be delays, the Government should tell us. Right now it looks more like a surreptitious attempt to hide the fact our vaccination roll out is slow," Bishop said on Wednesday. 

"The Government needs to come clean to New Zealanders about the state of our vaccine roll-out. Not quietly update its website and hope no one will notice."

Dr Bloomfield acknowledged the Ministry of Health could have been more transparent. 

"I accept that it may not have been the best way to convey that information but what I can say is that was not trying to hide or obfuscate anything," he told reporters at a 1pm press conference. 

"It's not a delay, we've just got more certainty about when the programme will scale up and when those groups will come online, proportionate to the vaccine supply."

Dr Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was trying to provide more clarity. 

"You've got to remember, when we gave these indicative times of when the vaccination programme would roll out to different groups, this was back in February and March when there was still a lot less certainty about the programme and also the vaccine deliveries."

The update was mentioned in ads distributed over the weekend, as depicted in the below image. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, Dr Ashley Bloomfield accused of 'hiding vaccination delays'
Photo credit: Supplied

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said it all depends on Pfizer's deliveries.

"Ultimately, supply has always been a factor that's going to play a big role in determining how far we can move with any of those groups," he told reporters. 

"Our message to the public has always been: when your opportunity arises we'll get in touch or the people who are going to be administering will get in touch."

Hipkins said Pfizer has not yet confirmed its delivery schedule from July, which is when the bulk of shipments are expected to arrive in New Zealand. 

"Obviously we're in the same position as a lot of other countries waiting to hear from Pfizer exactly what we'll get and when," he said. 

"It may mean that we have to slow down a little bit at the beginning of July to make sure we don't get into a position where we run out if we're not getting a reasonably sizable delivery early in July. 

"Bearing in mind, our agreement with Pfizer is they will be delivering us all of the vaccines that we need to finish our vaccination programme between July and September. But the delivery schedule hasn't yet been completely confirmed."

ACT leader David Seymour said the delay of the vaccine roll-out to the general population shows how "disorganised" the Government is.

"The sooner the country is vaccinated, the safer we will be. The current outbreaks in Victoria and Taiwan show how dangerous waiting can be," he said. 

"We've been told that we don't need to rush because we're COVID free, well it only takes one leak from MIQ for that to no longer be the case."

The Ministry of Health's update on Wednesday shows more than 562,000 people have been vaccinated so far, while just over 191,000 people have had their second jab, meaning they're fully protected. 

The Government is currently 8 percent ahead of its delivery schedule. 

All District Health Boards (DHBs) have started vaccinating Group 3, which includes people over the age of 65, disabled people, and those with an underlying health condition.