New Zealand’s entire Covid-19 vaccine rollout appears to be based on a chart that the Covid-19 Response Minister now says “is intended to be illustrative and approximate”, Marc Daalder writes

Great news!

Last week, we vaccinated 28,156 people, falling just short of our goal of 31,523 jabs that week – 89 percent doesn’t sound too bad.

So, how many people are we expecting to vaccinate this week? Who knows! The Ministry of Health refuses to say.

The story of New Zealand’s lack of vaccination targets and slow rollout has been rumbling away in the background for months but this week it spilled over into the headlines.

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop revealed a leaked document which indicated we should have administered nearly 400,000 vaccines by this date, when we’ve in fact done just 90,000. Then, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the document was a draft plan designed before we committed to an all-Pfizer rollout. Instead, she pointed to a vague chart on the Ministry of Health’s website which contrasted weekly actual vaccinations against weekly “plan” vaccinations.

Mythical Plan Chart A

How are those “plan” figures devised? How far into the future do they extend? Can we see them?

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield shed a bit more light on Thursday afternoon when he said that the plan was an amalgamation of District Health Board (DHB) vaccination plans through the end of April. Another round of DHB plans is being summed up to create a longer-term plan through the end of June. But the Ministry of Health refused to release either set of figures to me when I asked that same day.

Moreover, the Ministry said the final plan didn’t just take into account DHB expectations but also the nationwide, overarching “vaccination rollout plan“. That sounds great! Except the chart the Ministry linked to poses two problems.

First, it shows we are much farther behind than the chart Verrall pointed to. While Verrall’s chart (let’s call it Mythical Plan Chart A) said we were only expecting to vaccinate around 31,000 people last week, the “vaccination rollout plan” (hereafter known as Mythical Plan Chart B) has us vaccinating more than twice that many people every week by the start of April.

Mythical Plan Chart B

That leads into the second problem with Mythical Plan Chart B: It appears to be completely made up. When Bishop asked Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins for the data underlying the chart, so that the Opposition and media can better hold the Government’s rollout to account against its own aspirational targets, he said there were no numbers behind it. Instead, he said that Mythical Plan Chart B “is intended to be illustrative and approximate”.

So, our vaccination rollout is based on DHB expectations of how many people they’ll vaccinate, layered on top of a chart that appears to be little more than nice-looking lines drawn on a sheet of paper.

That’s not a plan, it’s summing up how many appointments each DHB expects to make in the next few weeks.

A proper plan would be built around targets that are not merely achievable but aspirational. It should be epidemiologically informed, not based simply on Ministry of Health bean-counters adding up vaccine supply, expected demand and workforce availability.

The Ministry told me that the plans are subject to change with vaccine supply. To some extent, that’s fair enough. But if we’re waiting until we have complete and total certainty on when each dose of the vaccine will arrive on our shores, and are in the meantime tweaking our plans every time someone makes or cancels a vaccine appointment, then we aren’t actually planning a rollout – we’re making it up as we go.

That urgent approach served us well this time last year, when the global environment was uncertain and we were forced to lock down with little notice. But we’ve had nearly a year to plan for rolling out the vaccine and we’re still struggling to do the basics.

The Ministry of Health won’t give out daily vaccine data, ministers and officials can’t say what percentage of the frontline border workforce meant to be vaccinated by early March has actually been immunised and now an unvaccinated border worker has tested positive for Covid-19 and no one has any clue why.

Making it up on the fly has failed us – it’s time for the Government to give us a plan.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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