Covid 19 Delta outbreak: The vaccination is finally going gangbusters – but for how long?


The silver lining of the Delta outbreak is that so many people are getting vaccinated.

So many, in fact, that supply may not be able to meet demand by the end of next week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been working her global networks to secure some quick-fire shipments in order for the rush to continue while the complacency shackles are loosened.

Not wanting to jeopardise any agreements before they’re inked, Ardern has been tight-lipped on who she’s been speaking to.

But she has powerful friends all over the world, among them Canada’s Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, and Spain’s Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón.

These countries all have at least 60 per cent (France) of their populations fully vaccinated, with Denmark hitting 73 per cent.

Just over a quarter of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated.

The transtasman heat is on, with Australia having secured quick supplies from Poland, Singapore, and – as announced this weekend – the UK.

Agreements with more than one country may be announced by Ardern in coming days.

If no such agreements are inked soon, Ardern will need to front anyway to outline the plan for ensuring how three key groups can keep going gangbusters – Auckland, Māori and Pasifika.

It’s not a problem the Government was anticipating.

There was a lot of scepticism about the “ramp up” following an Auditor-General’s report in May, which said there was much to do and only a minor thing needed to go wrong for it to fall short.

There were earlier problems including lack of communication with primary care, a slow and overly bureaucratic process for signing up GPs and pharmacies as vaccine centres, and a failure to make it clear that most of group 3 wouldn’t get vaccinated until the second half of the year.

But three times this past week more than 89,000 doses were administered in a single day, and about 1.1 million people had a jab in the past two weeks.

Last Tuesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there were about 800,000 doses either centrally held or at vaccination centres around the country.

At 550,000 being administered a week, that leaves roughly 250,000 left by tomorrow.

A weekly shipment of 400,000 doses is due by then, which would boost available stock to 650,000.

With the same demand and shipment the following week, available stock would reduce to 500,000 doses at the start of next week, which would then start to run dry by the end of the week.

Even if demand has to be dampened, it would only need to be for two weeks until bigger shipments arrived in October.

We would still receive shipments of 400,000 doses a week until the end of September, enough to meet the same rush of demand in Auckland, as well as continuing to supply Māori and Pasifika health providers.

The priority would also be for bookings to be maintained.

Walk-in and drive-thru clinics outside Auckland, where people are already enjoying reduced alert level restrictions, would be the obvious place to squeeze supply.

Ardern seems confident that this won’t need to happen, otherwise she might have paused opening up bookings last week for those aged 12 to 29 – a group of about 1.5m people.

That move also means less focus on prioritising according to risk, and in some cases, the prioritisation queue has even been reversed.

Many in group 3 or older age groups in group 4 booked some time ago, but could only secure appointments later this month. They’ve since been leap-frogged by zoomers and millennials getting a jab within days of booking as many more vaccination centres have opened.

It’s unclear how many people in group 3 are actually vaccinated at the moment. The Ministry of Health says 469,495 people in the group are fully vaccinated, even though 530,000 people 65 and over – all of whom are in group 3 – are also fully vaccinated.

At least they’re in the queue; 91 per cent of 65s and over have either had at least one dose or are booked.

While the rush is on, it’s understandable that prioritisation takes a back seat.

When it dies down and complacency re-emerges, Ardern will face a bigger challenge: reaching pockets where coverage is poor, and convincing those who might be unsure, or who don’t want the vaccine at all.

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