Jack Tame: Winston's right, the vax rollout is too slow

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sat, 19 Jun 2021, 10:15AM
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

Jack Tame: Winston's right, the vax rollout is too slow

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sat, 19 Jun 2021, 10:15AM

Winston Peters has ended his long-running media hiatus by appearing on Australian morning TV and giving the vaccine rollout in New Zealand a bit of a kicking. It’s been too slow, he says.

Easy to criticise when you’re out of government of course, but is that fair? I think it’s worth considering a really basic question: What was the primary aim for New Zealand’s vaccine rollout?

Was the aim to safely vaccinate New Zealanders as quickly as possible? As a developed country heavily reliant on open borders, it was in the best interests of our collective health and economy to get us all vaccinated as soon as possible. The virus is mutating fast. It’s becoming more infectious. As lucky as we are to be living life free of community transmission, you need only look at Melbourne or Sydney or Taiwan, to know how quickly that can change. With those kinds of risks, there’s a good argument to be made that New Zealand should have done whatever it took to get as high up the vaccine list as possible, even without community transmission. If that meant paying more dosh or negotiating better deals with the big pharma companies, then so be it.

But if the goal of the rollout was to safely vaccinate New Zealanders in the fastest possible time, the government and our health ministry have surely failed. We can’t look back at the initial response to Covid-19 and toot our horns, comparing ourselves favourably with almost every other country on Earth, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that we are making the amongst the slowest progress with vaccinations in the developed World.

Perhaps you’d argue that vaccinating Kiwis as quickly as possible wasn’t actually the goal. Call it the moral argument. Because New Zealand is free of community transmission, you might argue, we should ensure that poorer high-density countries vaccinate their populations first. If that was the goal, noble as it might be, no one in the general population would be getting vaccinated this year at all.

It seems to me we’re in a funny middle ground. We haven’t done the noble thing. And for whatever reason, we haven’t done the fast thing, either.

To be fair, I think we owe the government a few concessions. The decision to stick with one vaccine – Pfizer – is a good one, that has meant supply has been slower than if we’d chosen multiple vaccines. But from the start, the detail on the rollout has been wishy-washy at best. Despite promising a World-leading response, the government refused to publicly release any proper information around its targets and timelines. Confusion and speculation have filled the void. They published a graph showing the rollout plan that had used no real data points. Vast numbers of border workers didn’t get vaccinated when we were told they were. Then it turned out, large numbers of their family members might not have been vaccinated, except the Ministry of Health couldn’t really say, because of issues with data collection. Even though the Ministry of Health is ahead of its nationwide targets, our most vulnerable city, Auckland, and our most vulnerable DHB, Counties Manukau, have been behind their vaccination targets almost from the very start.

What has interested me most is how different people’s anecdotal experiences have been. I know of some older people who’ve been proactively contacted and vaccinated and don’t have a complaint in the World. Smooth As! I know of other people who are more vulnerable and presumably higher up the vaccination list who’ve not heard a thing. Everyone’s got a mate who just went and asked for the vaccine, or phoned up the local DHB, and it worked. Others know people who’ve spent hours on the phone without luck.

The whole thing has at times felt a bit ramshackle and inconsistent.

I’ve heard politicians say it’s not where we start but where we finish. It’s true that we won’t be entirely safe until our full population is vaccinated. Even then, we face a risk. But the speed of the rollout does matter. Every day someone in our community isn’t vaccinated, we face an increased risk of a community outbreak. The more people are unvaccinated at any one time, the greater the risk.

The second half of this year will be critical. There is space and opportunity for things to improve. For now though, Winston’s not wrong.