Defence Force could be involved in nationwide Covid-19 vaccine roll-out — Peeni Henare

Source: 1News

The Defence Force could be part of the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine rollout to help make sure the crucial jab makes its way to small regions, according to Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

Yesterday, the Government revealed its four-phase vaccination plan, after securing around 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech-developed Covid-19 vaccine.

It's forecast the vaccine will be rolled out to the wider public from July, with vulnerable groups prioritised in the meantime.

But the long-awaited vaccine does come with challenges.

Unlike some of the other Covid-19 vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine requires transport and storage in supercool facilities, to be stored at -70C.

Recent research found it could be kept at -15C , but would only last for two weeks instead of six months.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare admits providers have already recognised the logistical challenges they're facing.

"For example, we know that it must be stored in cool stores [and] obviously we don't have cool stores in places like Nūhaka and Te Kao," he told Breakfast this morning.

"We've got to make sure we get the system right in order to do the max rollout in the second half of the year."

The rollout could see Defence Force involvement, says Henare, who is also the Minister of Defence.

"The defence personnel and the Defence Force are heavily involved in the logistics of how we actually roll the vaccine out," he says. 

"We know that they serve our country in times of civil emergency so we're using all of the tools at our disposal to make sure and to logistically plan how we might get to Te Kao, or is it actually more efficient for us to work with the community there to bring them to Kaitaia, which is the nearest town centre. 

"All of that planning is underway right now."

Defence Force staff are already involved in the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic, working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Health authorities will be talking with their communities "starting as soon as possible", Henare says.

"I understand in Auckland, for example, that's already started, but we'll be working with our providers in the likes of Kaitaia, to work with our whānau in Te Kao, to inform them and keep them up to date with respect to the vaccine, with the hope that in the second half of the year we can roll them out efficiently."

Henare also wants a "whānau-centred" approach for the overall rollout.

"It's no good going in to just vaccinate Nanny, who lives in a house of her whānau with eight other people," he says. 

"That assessment needs to be made by the person going in to do the vaccination."

The vaccine will be free for all New Zealanders and health authorities are aiming to vaccinate as many people as possible by the end of the year.

MIQ and border workers are already being vaccinated now as part of the first priority group, with their household contacts next in the line.

Frontline health workers, including Covid testers, GP staff and ambulance staff, are third in line, as well as people in high-risk locations or settings, such as South Auckland over-65s or people in long-term residential care.

They're followed by people aged 75 and older who weren't in any of the previous groups, followed by people over 65, then people with underlying health conditions.

After that, the vaccine is likely to be rolled out to the rest of the country.