Sparks fly in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins deny pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant inevitable lockdown

Sparks flew in Parliament as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins denied the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant lockdown was inevitable. 

The tension heated up on Tuesday when National leader Judith Collins asked Ardern why the Government waited until the Delta outbreak to purchase additional vaccines from other countries, while National MP Chris Bishop heckled Labour from behind his leader. 

"I completely reject the assertion in that member's question, as I do the statement made by the member behind her, who in the course of asking her question - and the member may wish to take issue with the fact that he has done this over the top of her - gave the assertion that in some way we have delayed the delivery of vaccines to New Zealand," Ardern said. 

"I find that an outrageous claim. At every step we have sought to access the Pfizer vaccine as quickly as we were able; in fact, entering into arrangements with Pfizer before the completion of clinical trials. 

"The fact of the matter is, most countries have not received their vaccines at a time that is convenient for them but rather at the time when they've been available from manufacturers. As they have arrived, we have distributed."

The Government secured an extra million doses of Pfizer vaccines earlier this month from Spain and Denmark to keep up with high demand after the Delta variant of COVID-19 was detected in the community following almost six months virus-free. 

It's only since the Delta outbreak that vaccination rates have accelerated. More than 1.6 million people in New Zealand are now fully vaccinated, while about 62 percent have had one dose. We're now on track to beat the United States, after sitting near the bottom of the OECD for most of the year. 

"The point that I would make: we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated," Ardern said. "You will have heard Dr Bloomfield say 90-plus and the reason you'll hear us talking about such high rates, is the higher you go, the fewer ongoing restrictions are required on a day-to-day basis to ensure people's safety."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says supply from Pfizer hampered the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says supply from Pfizer hampered the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Photo credit: Getty Images

Collins asked: "If vaccinations are critical to preventing level 4 lockdowns, then why were only 20 percent of eligible New Zealanders fully vaccinated against COVID at the start of the Delta outbreak?"

Ardern said the issue was supply from Pfizer. 

"The member well knows that we at that time were using all of the supply available to us but we did not have enough supply from Pfizer to enable a greater rate of vaccine at that time. That is no longer the case. 

"We long signalled, from the beginning of the year, that the arrival of our largest order of doses would be in the latter half of 2021."

Bishop said the Government was too slow, highlighting Ardern's comments in February when she said: "We're not in a race to be first", after the World Health Organization warning against "hoarding" vaccine doses

"Does he now accept that if we hadn't been the slowest in the OECD for most of this year, we'd be in a better position now?" Bishop asked Hipkins. 

National MP Chris Bishop has throughout the year questioned the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
National MP Chris Bishop has throughout the year questioned the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Photo credit: Getty Images

"No, I utterly reject the assertion in the member's question, along with all of the other assertions that he has made, like we were going to run out of vaccines, we didn't have enough syringes, we didn't have enough vaccinators, the booking system was going to fail, that we weren't going to be able to deliver 50,000 vaccines a day," Hipkins said. 

"Instead of undermining the vaccine campaign, perhaps he should get behind it."

Bishop then alluded to Ardern's comments in April, when she suggested other countries had greater need of vaccines than New Zealand, which at that time was virus-free. 

"People are literally not dying while they wait," she said. "That means delivery has been different."

Bishop asked Hipkins: "Does he agree with the Prime Minister and other ministers who have said words to the effect of 'it doesn't matter how fast our vaccine rollout is because other countries need it more', and do you think the Aucklanders who are now enduring the longest lockdown in New Zealand history might be reflecting negatively on those comments?" 

Hipkins fired up. 

"What I do agree with is the member should stop spreading misinformation. That is not what any minister in this Government has said. I would say to any New Zealanders listening to him that they should think twice about any of the statements he makes because most of them don't stack up."