Don't rush the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, WHO warns New Zealand

Natalia Sutherland
Source: 1News

New Zealand shouldn’t rush its Covid-19 vaccine rollout if it wants to continue to do well, the World Health Organization warns.

This comes after the Opposition questioned the Government’s lack of speed with its rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme this week.

Leader of the National Party Judith Collins accused the Government of acting too slowly, saying the vaccine roll out should be fast-tracked.

"It is ridiculous not to have a plan to roll out the vaccines when they're available and let New Zealanders know when they're going to be available.

“It’s very important that the New Zealand Government doesn’t go asleep on this issue and declare victory well before it’s time to declare any victory at all.”

However, the World Health Organization is advising New Zealand not to rush its vaccination programme but instead advising New Zealand to take its time and roll out the vaccine properly.

“It’s a lot more than simply getting the vials, getting the needles. There are many things that have to be done very well at every point in the chain for a really effective vaccination programme,” Dr Margaret Harris from the World Health Organization told 1 NEWS.

Highlighting the success of New Zealand at controlling the virus, Harris says if New Zealand wants to continue to stamp out Covid-19 and protect the health system the rollout needs to be meticulously planned.

“If you have the luxury of low transmission you can also have the luxury of planning your rollout of the vaccine very well and that’s very, very important.

“Don’t expect it to be super-duper fast.”

She says New Zealand needs to first determine what vaccine it will use.

“Some of the ones that have come on early need a very complicated cold chain, they need to be stored at a very low temperature which again is something that requires a lot planning and organisation.

“You may be able to wait for the others that can be used at room temperature, so all these factors need to be taken into consideration.”

Secondly, a team of professionals needs to be trained to not only inoculate people on mass but to work alongside New Zealand’s diverse communities.

“You need people who work well in the community, people who speak the different languages of the community – to listen to the concerns of the community and help people understand what’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen.”

Then those who work at the border, healthcare workers, elderly and those most likely to get severe Covid-19 need to be given the vaccination.

“You want to keep the pressure off your healthcare system and also your healthcare workers — that’s a group you need to be vaccinating.”

With it being unclear whether or not any of the current vaccines prevent transmission of the virus, Harris says it’s vital clear information is kept on those being vaccinated.

“At lot of people have been pushing on the kind of, ‘Oh, we are wanting to get people who are likely to transmit the virus.'

“Now we don’t know if any of the vaccines actually prevent transmission ... so at this point we’re really focusing on vaccinating the groups that are most likely to get severe disease. The next stage is looking at whether or not it prevents transmission.”

The National Party argues the new UK variant of the virus makes a fast rollout critical, however, Harris says the variant shouldn’t become a distraction.

“Keep up the things that are working. New Zealand has shown that they can work, keep them up, do your vaccine programme well, do it in a good well managed fashion and keep on showing the rest of the world how to do it.”

She warned that New Zealand could easily follow the path of Ireland, which managed its infection numbers initially but is now facing “a very grim situation”.

“This virus really acts like the embers in a bush fire – if you don’t keep stamping on every ember it can explode suddenly and very quickly.

“I emphasise that New Zealand is doing well, but you’ve got to keep doing it.”

Vaccines to be rolled out when it’s safe, Government says

Earlier this week the Government said MedSafe is working on streamlining its approval process for vaccines and wouldn’t be rushing the process through.

“It’s critical the public has confidence in the safety of vaccines,” a Government spokesperson said.

“We expect to be in a position to start vaccinating front line workers from April 2021, and the public in the second half of the year.

“At this stage, based on the our current situation, our first priority will be to vaccinate border workers and essential staff who are at the greatest risk of getting Covid-19.“