The Government aims to have the entire 12,000-strong border workforce vaccinated within two to three weeks of the jab rollout beginning on Saturday.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there were “good signs” from the safety checks of vaccines, which arrived in the country on Monday.
“It’ll start slow-ish over the weekend and then it will really ramp up next week,” Hipkins said.
“We’re talking about 12,000 people, then from there we move on to their household contacts, their close family members, because we’re doing this on a risk basis.
“Obviously, people that are at the border and interacting with them on a daily basis are those who are most at risk.”
Hipkins defended the Government’s slow rollout of saliva testing following criticism from epidemiologist Michael Baker, among others. The issue was seized on yesterday in Parliament, as National and ACT MPs repeatedly questioned PM Jacinda Ardern about it.
“There are some practical things. We’ve got to make sure we have the workforce capable of doing that. If you’re talking about daily saliva testing, you’re talking about multiplying the number of swabs being processed seven-fold every day.
“We’ve got to make sure we have the supplies to do that — slightly different supplies. All of these things have to be factored in including the sustainability of the supplies.
“We’re dealing with international suppliers around testing gear. The supply chain is very constrained at the moment. We’re competing with every other country who is also grappling with the same issues.”
Hipkins said they were getting information around the validity of saliva testing while using both that and PCR tests on people and staff at the Jet Park facility.
“I saw some media commentary saying there is only a two per cent difference between a PCR test and a saliva test. When you have no cases in the community, two per cent is a very significant number.
“That’s a two per cent increase in risk — that’s an unacceptable increase in risk.
“We’re working at the high risk areas first, Jet Park, because that’s where we know we’ve got positive cases. That means we can compare the PCR tests to the saliva tests, we can get a really good read out of how they compare in terms of their reliability.
“If a PCR test is picking up a case that a saliva test is missing, that’s information we’re getting through this current rollout.
“I’ve certainly never said that we wouldn’t want to do saliva testing on a more wide-scale basis. We’ll do that as quickly as we can, but it has to be reliable because we’ve got to make sure we can sustain it.”
The minister also said purpose-built quarantine facilities were unlikely to be built by the Government because of construction time and challenges staffing such facilities.
“At this point we’re not planning to have people in our managed isolation facilities beyond this year. We keep that possibility open,” he said.
“The goal is obviously not to have those border restrictions in place indefinitely.
"It’s a bit like a prison. If you build a prison in the middle of nowhere, your biggest constraint isn’t the prisoners, it’s actually getting people to go work at the prison.”