Coronavirus: Judith Collins questions 'unusual' pause in COVID-19 vaccine rollout after five community cases found

National Party leader Judith Collins is questioning why COVID-19 vaccinations have been put on hold, following confirmation of cases in the community. 

But an expert says it's the right call, though somewhat frustrating, considering the risks. 

Five linked cases of the Delta variant with no known link to the border have been found in the past 24 hours, prompting a snap nationwide level 4 lockdown - at least seven days for Auckland and Coromandel, and three for the rest of the country. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday evening said the vaccine rollout would be paused for 48 hours to make sure venues can operate safely, with the risk some patients could be infected. 

Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday she got a call about the lockdown shortly before Ardern announced it just after 6pm.

"I said, 'thanks for letting me know'. I asked a few questions, but obviously that's about it. There's no point getting excited about it… we've got a largely unvaccinated population. I said that to the Prime Minister - it's largely unvaccinated, there's no choice really, is there?"

Experts have said thanks to its mutations, there is no herd immunity level for the Delta variant of the disease. The vaccines were developed to work against the original strain of the virus, and though they offer some protection against Delta, vaccinated people are still able to spread it. 

Collins said pausing the vaccine rollout "seemed unusual".

"I did raise the issue about why we were doing that. Ardern said… they wanted to make sure it could be done safely.

"I've been in the public vaccination centres, in the great big barns and things, looks to me like everyone's being extremely safe around their social distancing, mask-wearing, everything else… Mostly our country is largely unvaccinated and the best thing we can do is get as many people vaccinated as soon as we can. 

"Look, we're not going to play silly games with this. Just as fast as we can, get people vaccinated." 

Appearing on The AM Show after Collins, Ardern said it might not take 48 hours for health officials to give the all-clear for the rollout to resume. 

"The advice I've had from [the Ministry of] Health is they don't believe it will take that period of time. We've given an indication of a period of time in order for those vaccination centres to orientate towards making sure they can maintain all the protocols you'd expect in a level 4 environment."

Nikki Turner.
Nikki Turner. Photo credit: The AM Show

Nikki Turner, head of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, told The AM Show she was "disappointed" to see vaccination centres shut, but "clearly we have to do this safely".

"Even a short break while they're ensuring they have all the processes in place, that people can come with full protection and the healthcare providers are fully protected is important. 

"I think it's really important that it's as short as possible, this stop. We're all committed out there, vaccinating, vaccinating, vaccinating, so getting up and started again as soon as we can is the way to go."

After a slow start, the vaccine rollout has hit its stride - more than 40,000 doses are now being administered daily, and the Government recently brought forward the dates of eligibility for younger age groups, with large deliveries from supplier Pfizer arriving in the country. From September anyone 16 or over will be able to book their jabs. 

Dr Turner said children will hopefully be eligible soon too, with other countries giving the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA-based vaccines the nod for kids down to 12 years of age.

"Anybody who's been watching the curve in the last few weeks, the number of our vaccines delivered has really ramped up. We were slow to get started but now that we've got more vaccine supplies, we've got more vaccine clinics coming on site."

The initial COVID-19 case found on Tuesday hadn't been vaccinated. His wife had, and she's tested negative so far. The vaccines reduce the likelihood of serious illness, and studies show they also reduce the time an infected person is contagious.