Out of, perhaps, understandable political expediency, this Government did side-deals with vaccine manufacturers to jump the queue. Now there are emerging inequities across the world, and even across New Zealand.

Comment: There was a warm buzz about the tourism expo down at Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour at the weekend.

The Cook Islands tourism operators there told me their Covid-free communities, once wary of opening the borders to NZ tourists, had been reassured and enlivened by the rollout of two doses across the adult populations of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and some of the other southern islands.

At the same time as their expo was welcoming crowds of well-wrapped Kiwis tempted by the idea of a tropical holiday, the Ministry of Health was welcoming the largest shipment yet of Pfizer vaccines, two days ahead of schedule. The ultra-cold container of 150,000 doses allows NZ to finally pick up the pace on its somewhat relaxed vaccine ‘stroll-out’.

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“Staff worked late last night to pack and get the vaccine ready for shipment by road and air to District Health Boards and vaccination centres around the country today,” said Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

With the projected arrival of 1 million doses this month, New Zealanders will hope to begin feeling the same confidence experienced by their fellow citizens in Cook Islands and, indeed, by the populations of many countries whose vaccine distribution is far ahead of ours.

On Monday, Hipkins congratulated the vaccinators for their work to speed things up. But that raises three important questions.

First, do we have sufficient trained and certified vaccinators, and facilities, to ramp up the distribution? We know that some doctors and nurses have been pleading for months for sign-off; we also know about problems with vaccination centres like the shut-down ASB Showgrounds, which was meant to be a centre for vaccinations on the Auckland isthmus.

Secondly, are our health leaders being transparent about the schedule for getting doses to the wider population? ACT leader David Seymour highlights a new change to the advertised plans: initially the vaccine was to be rolled out to the general population from July; then it was changed to July 28. Now, the Ministry says only that people will be able to book their vaccinations from that date – which casts doubt on whether it will be available this month at all.

Finally, are health leaders sufficiently engaged in communities that are falling behind in the rollout, like rural communities, Pasifika peoples and, most markedly of all, Māori? Ministry of Health figures show only 9% of those vaccinated are Māori, despite making up 16% of the population.

Out of (perhaps understandable) political expediency, this Government and many other more affluent nations did side-deals with vaccine manufacturers to jump the queue. COVAX, the global purchasing scheme that NZ signed up to, has been facing a shortfall of nearly 200 million vaccines for high-risk people and frontline workers around the world.

Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.

My colleague Marc Daalder argues that’s part of the reason why the global rollout has been so uneven; why poor countries like India have suffered serious outbreaks but fully vaccinated less than 5 percent of their populations.

Realistically, these international inequities may not keep our leaders awake at night in the same way that Hipkins says he waits up at his computer to track the flights delivering vaccines to NZ.

They may consider their first obligation is to New Zealanders – but if that’s the case, it must be to all New Zealanders. 

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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