The Covid-19 Response Minister is rejecting claims the Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been a failure, after a review by the Auditor-General says there is a “real risk” the programme will miss its deadline.
In his report released yesterday, John Ryan said there were concerns about a lack of supply of vaccines, about the number of vaccinators, about reaching certain communities, and the ability of some DHBs to carry out the rollout.
In its response, the Ministry of Health noted it was working towards the Auditor-General’s recommendations to address the issues.
National leader Judith Collins said the rollout had been “a failure to date”, and that this was reflected in the Auditor-General’s review.
“We want to help him [Hipkins] make it a success,” she told Breakfast.
Speaking on Breakfast after Collins, Chris Hipkins said the Covid-19 vaccination programme was the most complex the country had ever faced before.
“The spirit behind the review is to try and identify weaknesses before they happen so they can be fixed,” he said.
He rejected that the rollout had been a failure. He said the main challenge was making sure vaccine doses were getting into the country.
Hipkins acknowledged the country was still waiting for the “majority” of the 1.2 million doses Pfizer had promised in its purchase agreement to be delivered to the country in the first half of 2021.
"They’ve been very reliable,” he said of the vaccine manufacturer.
While the switch to Pfizer as New Zealand’s preferred vaccine did slow things down, “it will be worth the wait” as overseas data was continuing to show it was one of the most effective of the vaccine candidates, Hipkins said.
He said New Zealand would continue to get regular deliveries of doses throughout the year.
“It’s difficult to lock down plans absolutely until we have the certainty from the people making it.”
He added: “If the vaccines don’t arrive, we’re likely to see a delay in the programme. We do have other options, we have purchased other vaccines.”
He also acknowledged there weren’t enough vaccinators at present to begin mass vaccination today.
But, Hipkins was confident things would ramp up. He said there were currently more than 5000 vaccinators, which was “a good number for us to be at this point”.
He said the Government would be working towards having the equivalent of 15,000 full-time vaccinators.
As for managing the movement of vaccines around the country, Hipkins said “forecasting demand is not an exact science”.
“We've got a supply chain set up to get vaccines to where they think they’re going to be needed at the right time.”
Once mass vaccinations begin, Hipkins said there would “literally” be cars on the road that can move doses around from place to place as they’re needed.