One part of New Zealand’s vaccine rollout appears to be far outstripping the rest at 339 per cent ahead of its plan.
But is this number accurate and is it misleading the public as to the rollout’s success against its targets as general public vaccinations scale up?
The confusing answer to these questions is both yes and no.
The statistic in question is the percentage difference between planned and actual vaccinations conducted at “other sites” – a designation which can be found within the DHB cumulative vaccination plans on the Ministry of Health website.
This includes vaccinations for staff in the New Zealand Defence Force, Police, Fire and Emergency and other large workplaces.
At present, these vaccinations are said to be a whopping 339 per cent ahead of plan as of Sunday, with 49,411 jabs administered against a planned amount of 14,575.
Its closest rival is the Whanganui District Health Board, which is 128 per cent ahead of its plan currently.
It seems incredible that such success could be achieved in a rollout which has often been criticised for its slow pace, clunky communication and variability across the country.
However, after digging into the numbers, that 339 per cent figure appears to mean very little.
According to ministry data, a plan was set for “other sites” vaccinations for one month from April 4 to May 2 – to administer 16,600 vaccines which it exceeded by 2025 jabs.
But as May progressed into June and July, the planned number of vaccinations at “other sites” was zero for the 14 weeks following May 2.
Despite the absence of a plan, these vaccinations didn’t stop. In fact, 32,811 jabs were administered over that 14-week period at an average of 2343 every 7 days.
However, that hasn’t stopped the ministry from comparing the number of vaccinations administered against a plan which hasn’t been active for more than three months.
The result: it confuses understanding of vaccine uptake and rollout speed for some of New Zealand’s most important communities.
Ministry Covid vaccination programme operations group manager Astrid Koornneef said vaccination plans for other sites were active during April, as defence force workers were prioritised early in group 1 of the rollout.
But she didn’t explain why plans for these vaccinations didn’t continue and why actual vaccinations were still being compared against out-of-date targets.
Even more alarming is the suggestion this inflated figure distorts the picture of the overall rollout by compensating for the nine DHBs, which are lagging behind their vaccination targets.
Koornneef confirmed all “other sites” vaccinations were included in plans for their DHB of residence and seemingly did not skew the rollouts position against its plan, which was currently 1.7 per cent to the good.
However, it begs the question; why is the data separately recorded under “other sites” at all?
Nevertheless, it is a misleading statistic which implies our vaccination effort is stronger than it is.
While it doesn’t necessarily indicate a gaping hole in the rollout, it does mean we have no framework with which to judge progress for such staff – some of whom are on the frontline.
Casting an eye across the DHBs respective positions against their plans, the material difference a mass vaccination event makes is obvious.
Auckland Metro, which had been below its projected vaccination targets since late April, shot above them last week to be 2375 jabs ahead of schedule.
The improvement appeared to be attributable to the roughly 15,700 people who turned out for the country’s largest mass vaccination event in Manukau two weeks ago.
While its targets are lower than much of the country, Taranaki has also jumped ahead recently – thanks in part to a mass vaccination event in Stratford.
There are still regions which will cause concern. Waikato is 12,777 vaccines behind its target, while Southern sits at the bottom of the pile at 20,549 in the red.
It’s important that credit be given to those heading a rollout which is ahead of schedule.
But as we’ve learned with border bungles, favourable numbers at a national scale can conceal potentially life-threatening holes – making it all the more critical to paint a clear picture of progress.
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