1 NEWS investigation: Emails reveal ministry's flu vaccine shortage worries, despite opposite message to public

Source: 1News

The Ministry of Health is under pressure over whether it misled the New Zealand public about this year's flu vaccine.

Officials have repeatedly denied there was a shortage, but a six-month investigation by 1 NEWS has uncovered the ministry knew about it - and even warned the Government - despite telling the public a different story.

Ministry of Health emails, released under the Official Information Act, reveal a number of conversations explicitly discussing low stock levels and struggles to fulfil orders.

That includes a Pharmac staff member emailing the ministry saying on April 29: "...have you been briefing the Minister’s office on the flu vaccine stock levels, including that we are very low on stock now until the next delivery?"

"Yes we have been," the ministry replied.

The next day an email to the ministry said: "I am not sure there will even be enough stock to over last nights’ orders."

It came as Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield encouraged Kiwis to get the vaccination on April 29, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson assured there was availability on May 1.

However, there were also waves of emails to the ministry from doctors struggling to get their hands on stock.

Alison Richards, of Working Health, said she was yelling at her television: "That's not right!"

"I had 2500 people waiting for the flu vaccines and I didn't have stock," she said.

The 1 NEWS investigation discovered that at the height of the problem, more than 1000 vaccines were lost - sent to the wrong city - and by the time they were found they were useless.

In a damning letter, the Hutt Valley District Health Board said it was "totally unacceptable" and that someone needed to take responsibility.

It said the lost vaccines "impacted significantly" on practices and were meant for "low decile and extremely vulnerable people".

The Ministry of Health wouldn't front on camera for 1 NEWS, but in a statement the ministry said it maintained it was a distribution issues and that were was not an overall shortage of the vaccine - despite the emails from the time telling a different story.