Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accused of 'telling half the truth' in COVID-19 vaccine graph

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been accused of "telling half the truth" in a graph she held up, comparing New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to other nations. 

The graph, which Ardern displayed during her press conference on Friday, showed New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccination rate plotted against Australia, Canada, the US and the UK, proportional to population. 

"You can just see New Zealand skyrocketing and in contention at the moment to beat some of the peaks of Canada," Ardern told reporters. 

But ACT leader David Seymour says the graph looks as though each country had its vaccination peak on the same day, when they were actually months apart. 

"She's right about one thing. New Zealand's rate of doses per person per day is pretty similar to those other countries' peaks at the moment," Seymour said in a Facebook video. 

"But there's a clue that something is not right. New Zealand's black line mysteriously stops while the other countries keep going."

That's because Canada's vaccinations peaked two months ago on June 28, the United States peaked four months ago on April 10, and Britain peaked five months ago on March 28. 

"She's telling half the truth at best," Seymour said. "She's gone way out of her way to misrepresent the data."

The Prime Minister's graph.
The Prime Minister's graph. Photo credit: Supplied

But a spokesperson for the Prime Minister pointed out that the graph Ardern held up doesn't have dates - it simply compares the vaccination peaks. 

"The graph is accurate in showing that per-capita New Zealand is currently vaccinating more people than other countries such as the UK, US and Australia did at their peak. This is positive news as it shows good rates of uptake from New Zealanders and widespread availability of the vaccine." 

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy, a disease modeller, says it was fair of Ardern to compare peak daily vaccination rates per head of population, "as it does show that New Zealand's vaccine logistics are operating well".

But he acknowledged that New Zealand's vaccine roll-out has been slower than the countries Ardern was comparing us to. 

"David is right, though, that our roll-out is delayed when compared to the rest of the world," he told Newshub. 

"I'm not an expert on vaccine politics but it is clear that the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand, has been behind Europe and North America in the vaccine supply. 

"It's not clear to me to what extent that has been under the control of the PM, given that other Asia-Pacific countries, like Australia, have also experienced delays."

Prof Hendy said vaccine logistics, which is under the Government's control, "appears to be doing well", but vaccine supply, which is less under their control, "has not gone as well". 

"The PM using a graph to emphasise the former success is reasonable. It would be good to see a clear explanation from the Government of the supply issues."

Professor of Medicine at Auckland University Des Gorman says the way the data has been presented is inappropriate and speaks to the need for a depoliticised COVID-19 response. 

"I've been arguing for a long time that we need an arms-length governance and management structure to manage COVID," Prof Gorman told Newshub. 

"The politicians and the Government obviously need to govern so they could make it clear to this standalone agency what their expectations are and what sort of outcomes they want. We've got to take politics out of the way in which we're managing a pandemic and presenting data.

"Politics is all about electoral risk and winning a popularity contest every three years and no matter how hard you try if you're a politician, that has to make it difficult to objectively balance economic risk on one hand and health risk on the other. 

"I think what we're seeing now is about presenting an image or a perception of the Government doing well compared to data which actually has utility."

Professor of Medicine at Auckland University Des Gorman.
Professor of Medicine at Auckland University Des Gorman. Photo credit: Newshub

Prof Gorman said he's not anti-Labour. 

"People accuse me of being a right-wing facist and having all sorts of political agenda. That's ridiculous. I'm actually arguing to depoliticise. I'm not arguing that politicians with one stripe do better than politicians of another stripe. I'm actually arguing that, when we look at complex operations, we manage them at arm's length."

He said the Government could look to other complex operations managed at arm's length, such as ACC, the Reserve Bank, the Super Fund, and biosecurity. 

"We've got a very nuanced and sophisticated way of protecting our orchids and vineyards and farms and forests. What a pity we didn't take the same sophisticated approach to protecting ourselves."