Coronavirus: Simon Bridges says vaccine rollout is a 'Lada', 'unforgivable' not to order boosters now

Simon Bridges has compared the vaccine rollout to "a Lada slowly putting up a hill", saying lockdowns will keep happening "into next year" if the Government fails to order booster jabs quickly. 

After a late start, the rollout has gone into overdrive - with more than 80,000 people a day now receiving jabs and everyone in the country 12 or over eligible from Wednesday. 

But that late start has us lagging internationally. The New York Times' tracker has us 84th in the world in terms of people with two doses, just behind Paraguay, Azerbaijan and Peru, but slightly ahead of Oman, Bolivia and Albania. Just counting first doses we're 79th, ranked alongside Guyana, Belize and Kazakhstan. 

"It's been appalling," Bridges told The AM Show on Friday. "The Government should fess up to that a little more than they do in public. What we've got to do now is have a much more  urgent, innovative vaccine rollout."

The Opposition has frequently pointed to comments by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins in 2020 that claimed New Zealand would be at the "front of the queue" for vaccines. Senior Labour minister David Parker has frequently pointed out that was when officials were considering a range of vaccines.

"We chose to go with Pfizer," he said again on Friday, appearing with Bridges on The AM Show from his own bubble. "We could have gone earlier if we had chosen other vaccines. We made the right decision to go with Pfizer. As a consequence that has been slower to start."

He said the rollout now was going faster than officials predicted. Availability was widened earlier this month ahead of schedule, including to children as young as 12. 

"We haven't got people dying in hospitals and clogging up our hospitals so people with other needs aren't having their needs met because we have managed this so well," said Parker, adding that MPs this week had heard from experts including Sir David Skegg and Nikki Turner, head of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, that elimination remained the best strategy. 

"We may fail, we're taking an ambitious strategy, but we lose nothing by doing that," Sir David told the Health Select Committee, meeting virtually.

"In fact, it keeps our options open. But we may find that it's not possible. We may find that we have to move to a suppression strategy. But we won't think in advance, 'let's give up and let's stop trying to live the way we are'. It'll just happen if it does happen."

'Unforgivable' not to order boosters urgently

Bridges said with Parker's attitude - that the vaccine rollout was acceptable because we've managed to reduce the impact of COVID-19 through other measures - "we'll just keep having lockdowns". 

"Look, we all accept elimination for now, but unless you do things like get onto the booster jabs, we'll just keep having lockdowns into next year." 

National this week has criticised the Government for not putting in an urgent order for more doses from Pfizer in case booster shots are needed. 

There's mixed evidence to date on how long the protection offered by two doses lasts - Israel, which has been used as something of a testing ground for the world's first mRNA vaccine, is going all-in. After starting third doses for over-60s, scientists there said the rate of spread dropped remarkably. They couldn't attribute it entirely to the booster shot, but said it was promising. Israel has secured early access to the Pfizer jab by paying a premium and supplying the company with detailed data. 

The World Health Organization on the other hand has recommended against them, saying even if they do help, it's a waste of resources when billions of people around the world haven't even had their first dose yet. 

"Booster jabs - these guys are not buying them at the moment when other countries are," said Bridges. "We will look back on that next year as unforgivable. We accept we're in lockdown, that's the way it is given the slowness, but you know, let's get on with the job now - including getting those booster jabs."

Parker said the experts were clear that it's still too early to know whether they would be needed. New Zealand's total Pfizer order of 10 million doses will be enough to start a booster campaign if required, since not everyone in the team of 5 million will be eligible for, or even want, a vaccine.

David Parker.
David Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

The Government also hasn't ruled out using other vaccines, including those made by AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novavax, that it ordered before deciding to start with Pfizer's. There is evidence different vaccines can be mixed and matched as booster shots. 

National was criticised earlier this week for a post on Twitter that confused booster shots with reformulated vaccines that target new variants. The party didn't respond to Newshub's request for comment, and hasn't removed the tweet. It did offer a "clarification" the next day it meant new doses of the existing Pfizer vaccine. 

New versions of the Pfizer jab targeting variants like Delta are yet to be tested. 


Parker said no decisions had yet been made on whether level 4 restrictions would be eased. Cabinet will meet on Friday, and Ardern will announce the decisions at 3pm. Epidemiologist Michael Baker earlier told The AM Show he expects another two weeks at level 4 for Auckland, and for the rest of the country to perhaps spend a few more days at the highest alert level just to be sure, then perhaps dropping down mid-next week.  

"We haven't had those discussions yet in Cabinet," said Parker. "It is true that we think the strategy we've adopted - to go hard to try and contain, and then stamp out this Delta variant - is right. So far we don't have widespread transmission of the virus that we've found in other areas, despite high rates of testing. So the contain bit seems to be going alright at the moment, the stamp-out bit has got some ways to go. 

"But increasingly it sounds like the transmission that we have is amongst known contacts, people who we can trace. But of course with this being so contagious now you can't track-and-trace your way out of it - we have to isolate our way out of it in order to break those transmission chains by staying in our bubbles."