Jacinda Ardern accuses Judith Collins of 'sharing misleading information' in COVID-19 vaccine debate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accused National leader Judith Collins of "sharing misleading information" during a debate on COVID-19 vaccines in Parliament. 

It was the first sitting of MPs since the latest Delta outbreak, with tension already in the air after National and ACT refused to accept a virtual gathering, while the Greens and the Māori Party refused to attend due to health risks. 

During a slimmed-down Question Time, Collins asked Ardern about comments made by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins to Newstalk ZB in June, in which it appeared he had asked Pfizer to slow down vaccine deliveries. 

"We're talking to them about whether some of that should be in October/November to make sure that we're smoothing out the deliveries so we don't end up with a whole lot in the freezer," Hipkins said at the time. 

Collins asked Ardern: "Did the Government tell Pfizer to slow down delivery of vaccines?"

Ardern accused Collins of sharing "misleading information", saying the comments made by Hipkins were taken out of context. 

"We have over 10 million doses of Pfizer for our country's roll-out. That is more than the number of people that are even eligible for a vaccine," Ardern said. 

"What the Minister for COVID-19 Response was referring to, was as we reach the point where all of those vaccines are delivered, how can we ensure that we see no wastage for the fact that we have more doses than we have people eligible to receive them and we have expiries for vaccines for the RNA vaccine that are at best four months. 

"I wish the [member] would pay more attention to the detail in the minister's statements rather than misleading people."

Collins also asked Ardern if the current lockdown would have been not as strict, and the outbreak less severe, had the Government provided vaccinations sooner. 

Ardern said even if vaccination rates were higher, it's not to say an outbreak would not have happened. She pointed to the United States as an example. 

"The fact that countries that have had vaccination programmes running for many, many months, like the United States, are now experiencing daily hospitalisations of a hundred thousand," Ardern said. 

"The last time they reached that was when they had their peak in the last winter, so it is just simply wrong to say that if you have months of available vaccination, that you prevent outbreaks. You've got to reach every corner of the community to the best of your ability if you are going to be successful in reducing those numbers."

Collins has called on the Government to introduce a vaccination target, to provide a sense of certainty about when coronavirus restrictions can be reduced. National proposed a 70 percent target, the same as Australia. But Ardern has no plans to set one. 

"From what our experts have shared with us, it's not necessarily about the percentage but whether or not you have enough people across different age demographics, different communities, different geographic areas, and different ethnicities," Ardern said. 

Collins asked the Prime Minister: "What does she say to the New Zealanders who trusted her to get them vaccinated but woke up to news yesterday that we might run out of vaccines?"

Ardern again accused Collins of being misleading. 

"That portrayal by the leader of the Opposition is incorrect." 

Ardern said the Government will not run out of vaccines. The problem is the bulk of deliveries from Pfizer will arrive in October. 

With more than 90,000 doses administered some days, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told The AM Show on Monday that level could only be sustained for a few more weeks. 

The Government is currently trying to source more vaccines to meet the high demand, and an announcement is expected this week. In the worst case scenario, the roll-out would revert back to the original plan, with around 50,000 doses a day. 

More than 3.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to date in New Zealand, of which 2.2 million are first doses and more than 1.18 million are second doses.