Depending on which minister you listen to, the vaccination rollout is either exactly where it should be, or cause for concern, writes political editor Jo Moir

OPINION: The Government has been under pressure over its vaccine rollout, which on many counts is under-performing.

In its defence the Prime Minister and Covid Response Minister have argued the goal has always been for all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of the year – any timings outside of that are immaterial to the bigger picture.

When Jacinda Ardern announced tier four of the rollout on Wednesday – only 13 percent of tier three (the most vulnerable) are fully vaccinated – she said this was “exactly where we intended to be’’. 

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There’s been capacity to administer 50,000 vaccinations a day in recent weeks, but it’s only just in the last week starting to ramp up to the high 30s.

If 12,000 vaccinations sitting in the freezer at the end of each day is exactly where we intended to be, then that’s not particularly ambitious.

Injecting a dose of truth serum on Wednesday was Ardern’s Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

In the same stand-up, with his boss next to him assuring the country everything was on track, he called out the District Health Boards for under-performing.

Earlier in the day the NZ Herald reported the postcode lottery reality of the vaccination rollout, pointing to the woeful statistics in Taranaki, where Māori are being vaccinated at a quarter of the national rate, putting them considerably behind.

When asked about the statistics, Henare gave DHBs an overdue serve and revelled in the fact they were set to be abolished.

“Yes, there are concerns about the way that the DHBs are rolling it out, which on a fringe note is why I’m excited about a Māori Health Authority in the health reform work ahead of us.

Peeni Henare gave DHBs an overdue serve and revelled in the fact they were set to be abolished.

“We do need to work with these DHBs, they’ve submitted plans and our job is to make sure we hold them to account to the plans they’ve submitted,’’ he told media.

On June 8, Newsroom asked Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins if a postcode lottery was at play, particularly in Taranaki, where those in tier three were yet to be offered appointments.

Hipkins noted Taranaki was one of the DHBs he’d like to see “lifting their overall delivery’’.

“Once we get to the point where we’re scaling up significantly, by mid-July, then all DHBs are going to be having to really pump through their vaccinations,’’ he told Newsroom.

Mid-July has been and gone and Taranaki is still considerably behind.

Clearly the DHB never got the message seven weeks ago to sort it out.

Ardern chipped in with her own response on June 8 telling Newsroom if a DHB was encountering issues with getting the workforce to undertake vaccinations, then the Ministry of Health would help support them.

Seven weeks is a long time for a region that has had multiple Covid scares with ships docking in Port Taranaki with infected mariners.

It’s a region that seems to have fallen victim to “onboarding’’.

It’s a newfound popular Government phrase relating to the need for more clinics to be brought on board to vaccinate now that large shipments of Pfizer have arrived.

Hipkins says clinics couldn’t be brought on in advance of the shipments arriving because there wasn’t supply, but now the vaccines have arrived there aren’t enough clinics to deliver it.

Hence, the rollout is still not hitting even 40,000 doses a day despite having the supply to do 50,000.

Again, on Wednesday Ardern noted more clinics, GPs and pharmacies “planned to come on board in coming weeks’’.

Ardern and Hipkins are right that many people won’t be bothered by the timing provided they get their two doses by the end of the year.

And now that the trans-Tasman bubble is closed for two months the threat of Delta getting into the country has significantly reduced.

But it’s clear some DHBs are failing miserably – Taranaki is not alone in this.

Ardern and Hipkins seem set on not pointing the finger where it’s deserved.

It’s difficult to understand why given the Government has already declared DHBs a complete failure and is swiftly moving to abolish them.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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