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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 7—Health

7. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister of Health: How many flu vaccines have been ordered, and how many have been administered to New Zealanders this year?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): Thank you, Mr Speaker. This year’s flu campaign will be the biggest on record in New Zealand, with 400,000 more vaccines available in 2020 compared with last year. This means that 1.768 million flu vaccines have been ordered for New Zealand. By necessity, the initial order was undertaken well before the COVID-19 pandemic. As at 17 April 2020, 587,000 people have been vaccinated. This is more than double the 290,000 who had been vaccinated on the same date in 2019.

Dr Shane Reti: What percentage of the four priority groups for flu vaccine were administered the vaccine by the original deadline, and what percentage have now been vaccinated?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I don’t have those numbers with me right now, but if the member puts a question in writing, I’m sure that we can get something to him. I can confirm that there have been extremely high levels of vulnerable people vaccinated. Two-thirds of the vaccines entered into the National Immunisation Register are people over the age of 65, over 5,000 are pregnant women, and we also know that record numbers of DHB front-line health workers have been vaccinated.

Dr Shane Reti: What communications has she had with the New Zealand Medical Association to understand their concerns after they described flu vaccination administration as a debacle?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I completely understand that this situation of unprecedented demand during a global pandemic would’ve put extra pressure on nurses, GPs, and pharmacists who are working on the front line. The Ministry of Health has stepped in with the distributor to ensure flu vaccines are getting to those who most need them. I mostly want to thank all of those front-line health workers—the GPs, the nurses, the pharmacists—who have achieved this incredible result of twice as many people so far vaccinated as at the same date last year.

Dr Shane Reti: How much influence on supply has it been with respect to flu vaccines administered to private payers who did not qualify for the free vaccine?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Sorry, I’m not sure I caught the beginning of that question.

Dr Shane Reti: How much influence on supply has it been with respect to flu vaccines administered to private payers who did not qualify for the free vaccine?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The Government moved to start the flu campaign two weeks early this year, and we did that with the understanding that we would be able to ensure that funded people had an opportunity to get their vaccines early, and we extended that prioritisation period out an extra two weeks. So there’s basically been a five-week period in which our expectation is that GPs and other providers were prioritising the funded groups.

Dr Shane Reti: Will she make the flu vaccine free to essential workers given her statement yesterday that all essential workers who are still at work, such as supermarket workers, should get the flu vaccine?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Pharmac makes the decisions about who gets funded. This Government did take the extra additional step of ensuring that we can cover the funding for aged care workers as well as all health workers like those in DHBs, and, ultimately, I would hope that the supermarket employers are paying for the vaccine for their employees.

Hon Dr David Clark: Can the Minister confirm that recent data showed that around 1.2 million vaccines had been distributed this year, as opposed to just over 600,000 at a similar time last year?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes, that is correct, and, indeed, 1.2 million is getting close to the total for the entire last season and was the total amount that were administered every year from 2013 through 2017.