$4M worth of expired MMR vaccines binned last month - Reti

Source: 1News

Dr Shane Reti and Health Minister, Andrew Little sparred in Parliament's question time on Thursday afternoon as revelations emerged at least $4 million worth of expired MMR vaccines were destroyed last month.

Little argued that New Zealand's Covid-19 vaccine took priority and said there had to be "trade-offs" amid a healthcare system under pressure.

National's health spokesperson challenged Little on Thursday, with Reti asking the Speaker: "What responsibility does he [Little] take for having to destroy nearly $4 million of MMR vaccines that expired last month and how many hip operations could that $4 million have paid for?".

Little responded by saying the country has had a health system that "had to respond at pace" to a worldwide pandemic and had to go from "business as usual" to administering more than 10 million vaccinations to "our population to keep them safe from the horrors of Covid-19".

He said the health system required "trade-offs" and the reality was no system could do "absolutely everything asked of it".

Little said because the borders were closed, the risk of measles infection were "way, way lower," it was a trade-off he was prepared to make.

In 2021, 1News revealed hundreds of thousands of MMR vaccines worth around $10 million were at risk of being dumped, as health providers struggled to maintain momentum alongside the Covid-19 response.

In 2019 it was a different story. As New Zealand struggled through its worst outbreak of measles in more than 20 years, stocks of the frontline defence against the disease were being rationed.

Children who were under five were given priority because of the lack of supply, while others were turned away.

By mid 2020 the Government had pledged to “step up the fight” against measles with a focus on roughly 300,000 of those aged 15 to 30 who are not immune to measles.

But as Covid-19 lingered, the health sector which was already struggling with chronic workflow issues, found it hard to keep up.

Little said on Thursday, the catch-up-campaign was paused between March and November 2021 to focus on responding to Covid-19.

He said the MMR campaign was paused because by March 2021, "a vaccine was available for Covid-19 and it was important for the health system to assemble the significant workforce needed to administer that vaccination campaign which to-date has led to the administration of more than 10.8 million doses of a vaccine for that particular condition."

Little said the MMR catch-up-campaign resumed in November 2021 but said the Covid-19 response still took priority.

Reti alleged on Thursday that another $5 million worth of expired MMR doses were due to be binned in two weeks time.

Little deflected the question by saying he stood by all his answers and indeed "all of the things I put into the public arena, unlike that member who's had to withdraw the figures of numbers he's relied upon".

Reti pressed further, asking, "was this $9 million failure a factor in Treasury's latest Investor Confidence Rating assessment (ICR) of the ministry he leads, being graded a D with its especially poor project delivery?"

Little said the Ministry of Health had been under immense pressure amid the pandemic and much had been asked of the agency over the past two years.

"We've had to press into service, people in our health system who have not been pressed into service before the biggest vaccination workforce we've ever had.

"That has given a lot more people an opportunity to be part of a health system with now, ambitions and aspirations, to play a long-term role in it. This Government will be supporting them to do that," Little said.