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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 3—COVID-19 Response

3. Dr SHANE RETI (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for COVID-19 Response: When will the coronavirus vaccine be available to everyone in New Zealand, and does he have confidence in the infrastructure required for the roll-out?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister for COVID-19 Response): Yesterday, I released the Government’s sequencing framework that provides greater clarity to New Zealanders about the national immunisation programme for COVID-19, which will be the biggest in the country’s history. Within that strategy, we’ve got a targeted roll-out over the next three to four months focusing on those who are most at risk of harm if they get the virus and those who live and work in places where they are most likely to pick up COVID-19. Our plan is that the rest of the population will start to have access to the vaccine from July onwards. With regard to the second part of the question, there is an element of building the plane whilst we’re flying it, here. I do have confidence in the processes that have been put in place to ensure that the infrastructure required for the roll-out is there when it is needed, but some of that work is still continuing.

Dr Shane Reti: Is he concerned it has taken until March to produce a roll-out plan that will now collide with the flu vaccine, which is due in one month’s time in similar priority groups and can’t be given within two weeks of the Pfizer vaccine?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, the roll-out of the regular flu vaccine has been part of the planning around this to make sure that we allow for that and to make sure that there isn’t the conflict that the member has just alluded to. It is a different sort of vaccination programme, though. With the flu vaccine, for example, we do not centrally record who has had the flu vaccine and who hasn’t. It is a single dose vaccine, whereas the COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses, three weeks apart, and we are recording exactly who has had it and when they have had it. That is quite an important distinction and, therefore, it requires a different degree of infrastructure for the roll-out.

Dr Shane Reti: Why is obesity not a relevant underlying health condition for prioritised coronavirus vaccination, given the Government’s answer to parliamentary question 4922 stating obesity to be one of the three most common disorders associated with poor outcomes?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Ultimately, wherever the Government drew the line in terms of the different groups in each sequence, there were going to be some who were in and some who were out. There is no absolute perfect exact way of doing this. The sequencing framework is, on balance, in our view, the fairest way of doing it, the most equitable way of doing it, but also the way that will provide the greatest protection, for New Zealanders, against risk.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he not think one of the top three conditions associated with poor outcomes should be prioritised?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I agree that the framework that we have released is the right sequence of priorities in terms of the vaccine roll-out.

Dr Shane Reti: Can GPs now download coronavirus vaccination information into patient files, given two weeks ago, the Government wrote in written questions that this capability would be available in two weeks’, which is now?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don’t have the latest information on that as of today. I do know that that is one of the capabilities that they are attempting to build into the system. One of the things that the member should bear in mind is that different GP practices use different patient management systems. And so one of the challenges here is to make sure that whatever they do is interoperable with all of them.

Dr Shane Reti: Hasn’t there been enough time to develop interoperability with GP practices and the coronavirus vaccination programme?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: That work is ongoing. I do want to note, though, that there is some complexity here. The different IT solutions, and there are several of them being developed, do different things. So there’s a different system for inventory management, there is a central record of who has been vaccinated, and there’s a booking system being developed. All three of those systems need to link to each other, and there’s also a need to link them to other systems, such as those operated by primary healthcare providers. That’s quite a complex system. It’s important that they get it right. We don’t want this to be—and to some extent, you know, adding to it as it is being used is one of the ways that we can avoid it becoming a Novopay-like situation where the perfect system was supposedly developed, switched on, and didn’t work.

Dr Shane Reti: What proportion of the New Zealand population receiving the vaccine will be the threshold for relaxing New Zealand’s travel restrictions?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: To be clear, the Government has not set a target around that. Our goal is to ensure that as many New Zealanders as possible are vaccinated. As we get into the second part of the year, we will firm up a little bit more around what reopening might look like and what the prerequisites for that might be. I do want to be clear here, and I’ve said this all along, that’s likely to be a progressive process rather than something all happening at once.