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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and policies?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, in particular I stand by today’s announcement that this Government will continue its ambitious child poverty targets for our next three-year target period. Today, I announced that our next set of child poverty targets are to reduce child poverty by 2023/24 to 10 percent under the before-housing costs measure, 15 percent under the after-housing costs measure, and to reduce material hardship to 9 percent. Achieving our next set of three-year targets will keep us on track to meet our long-term 10-year targets, and would result in up to 80,000 fewer children living in poverty since we came into Government. Under this Government, all nine poverty measures have already gone down since 2017 and 2018, and we’ve exceeded our first three-year target ahead of schedule for the after-housing cost measure, by lifting 43,300 children out of poverty—but there’s more to do.

David Seymour: Which of the Government’s policies is more on track out of KiwiBuild and the vaccine roll-out?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We’ve had now over a million doses of vaccine delivered to New Zealanders, and when we take into account fully vaccinated New Zealanders, that brings us ahead of, say, the likes of Australia. If the member is looking for good base comparisons for where we are relative to other countries around the world, I would point not simply to a measure of income, as the member has done previously, but a measure of how well we’re doing relative to other countries with the same rate of COVID infection and death. We should also be looking at the developing world. It is simply not good enough that the vaccination rates continue to be persistently low in those places, because if we are going to be safe, we must all be safe.

David Seymour: When she became Prime Minister, did she ever think she’d be reduced to saying, “Hey, we’re doing better than Africa.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When it comes to global health and wellbeing in a global pandemic, how countries like those in Africa are in performing is relevant to us. And, as a country who has a stake in the wellbeing of all nations including developing ones, I imagine that’s a consideration most New Zealanders would be proud to take.

David Seymour: Does she stand by Chris Hipkins’ statement that New Zealand would be, “At the front of the queue” for receiving COVID-19 vaccines; and if so, how did we get from the front of the queue to the bottom of the OECD?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely refute the premise of that member’s question, as we have secured the vaccine required to vaccinate our entire population within this year. I would also point out to the member there are very few countries that are also in the position to be able to roll out a single vaccine, which does present not only the benefits of a vaccine that’s holding up well in terms of its efficacy against variants, but also reduces some of the logistical challenges. We are such a country. Israel is one of the other few countries who have access for a whole population against that vaccine.

David Seymour: Was it a mistake to rely on one vaccine, because we no longer have a diversity of suppliers; and if so, will the Government reverse that position by sourcing vaccines from other suppliers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the member is wrong in the premise of his question. We do still have supply from other vaccines. Those vaccines—AstraZeneca, Janssen, and others—continue to go through the Medsafe approval process. That process will only happen as quickly as those pharmaceutical companies provide the data that Medsafe requires. That’s the first point I’ll make. The second is that other countries who do have a mixed programme of vaccines, the likes of Australia, you’ll notice have had to change up some of their direction around who is able to access that vaccine. It does not necessarily mean their roll-out is faster. The third point: all pharmaceutical companies have been ramping up their supply in the latter part of the calendar year of 2021. The first half of the year, for most vaccine suppliers, has always been constrained.

David Seymour: How much vaccine—or how many doses of the vaccine—are currently on-shore in New Zealand; and, at current rates, how many days does the Prime Minister expect that supply to last?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We do have some limitation around incoming supply in terms of what we’re able to say from the pharmaceutical companies. They have some requirements on us on what we say about our delivery schedule. However, for a long time—a number of weeks—we have been very open about the fact that we are currently, because we have outstripped our targets—the DHBs have outstripped the targets—if we maintain our current trajectory we will be able to continue to deliver vaccines for those who are booked, but if there is any slippage in the delivery schedule, there is likely to be constrained supply. But that is, at this stage, only if our pharmaceutical company does not deliver as they intended to.

David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister have a schedule of the dates and volumes of scheduled delivery from that pharmaceutical company; and will she publish it for the benefit of the House and all New Zealanders?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, but we tend to get them about four weeks in advance, rather than out to eight weeks or so on. That’s been something that’s been consistent all the way through, and we’ve been public about that. As I just said in my last answer, though, we have been open about the fact that we have some supply constraints, but Pfizer have been reluctant for us to give exact numbers around delivery schedules—that’s part of their commercial arrangements.

David Seymour: Is the Prime Minister concerned that modelling shows New Zealand would need to get to 97 percent of the population vaccinated to protect against new COVID-19 variants; and is she confident that New Zealand will reach 97 percent vaccination rate if that’s the case?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m really pleased in the change we’ve seen in New Zealanders’ willingness to be vaccinated. So over time, as we’ve been measuring and asking New Zealanders how they feel about being vaccinated, we’ve steadily been seeing that hesitancy reduce. So we’re up around rates of 80 percent of New Zealanders willing to be vaccinated. When it comes to the modelling, it is early days for some of that modelling, and I think we’ll continue to see those researchers do that work. Some of the modelling doesn’t take into account any other form of protection against the pandemic—you know, the use of, for instance, testing at the border or contact tracing and how that can reduce down risk. I expect the scientific community will continue to undertake that modelling for us—we’ve talked with them about that—to help inform our decision making. But my message to New Zealanders is: if we want to reduce the use of restrictions like lockdown, then the best thing we can do is get as many people as possible vaccinated.

David Seymour: Does the Government see its obligation as ensuring everybody has had the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or ensuring New Zealand reaches herd immunity; and, if the former, then will the Government continue with the elimination strategy after every New Zealander has had the opportunity to have a COVID-19 vaccine?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I see our obligation as keeping New Zealand and New Zealanders safe. The best way that we can do that is to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated. Now, I do see that we have some obligation because many people actually are just seeking more information in order to make a decision. We can provide that, we can provide that encouragement, so can experts in the field, and so can other members of the community. But what I’d also say about an elimination strategy: elimination does not mean that there will be zero incidents of COVID, and we already know that. It means when it arises, you stamp it out. We already have infectious diseases in New Zealand where we take that approach, we use contact tracing; public health measures; and, in this case for COVID, measures at the border. I anticipate we’ll continue to use those in combination with the vaccine programme.

David Seymour: Point of order. The question was quite specific. Now, the Prime Minister has described why it’s important to be vaccinated, she’s described the technical definition of elimination, but she hasn’t said whether the Government would change from an elimination strategy if vaccination was to reach herd immunity level or what she would do if it hasn’t. It’s quite a specific question, and a lot of people would like to know the answer. The Prime Minister hasn’t actually addressed it.

SPEAKER: I’ll refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 183/3.