Who gets the vaccine first will depend on the level of community transmission.
The Ministry of Health has outlined a general framework for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand, but remains guarded about precisely how it will be accomplished in Mahurangi.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Ministry was working alongside District Health Boards (DHBs) around the country to establish the workforce required for different communities.
“This is likely to use a mix of different providers and a mix of existing health facilities and new locations.
We’ll work with each DHB to work out what the best way is for people living in their community,” the spokesperson said.
For its part, the Waitemata District Health Board, whose jurisdiction covers most of the Mahurangi area, says all comment on the rollout must come from the Ministry.
Coast to Coast Health Care director Dr Tim Malloy says the lack of information is both “worrying and disappointing”.
Coast to Coast runs seven clinics between Warkworth and Paparoa, and tests for Covid at its Warkworth and Wellsford clinics.
“Given there’s a real possibility we are going to be involved, it would be nice to be advised what that involvement might look like,” he says.
“From our perspective, there’s a lot of pre-planning that has to go into organising that service, so the more warning we get the better.”
Nevertheless, he says local GPs are giving the Ministry some grace because of the logistical challenges involved.
Meanwhile, the Ministry expects vaccinations for the highest risk groups will start in April, gradually spread to lower-risk groups over time. Vaccinations will be free and not compulsory.
Deciding who gets the vaccine first will depend on the level of community transmission (if any) at the time vaccination begins.
Assuming there is little or no community transmission, the first priority will be workers at the border and managed isolation facilities, health workers with a high risk of exposure to Covid-19, and household contacts of both groups.
However, should there be widespread community transmission, the priority will switch to older people, people under 65 with underlying health conditions and people living in long-term residential care.
The Ministry of Health is planning to employ an extra 2000 to 3000 vaccinators to be deployed where needed. Training of specialist vaccinators is due to start this month and will then be extended to nurses, doctors and pharmacists throughout the country.
The Ministry is currently procuring extra freezers to store the vaccine.
A Ministry spokesperson says the Covid vaccine presents difficulties because of the ultra-low temperatures required and the short shelf life of the vaccine once it emerges from cold storage.
Meanwhile, Dr Malloy warns that the arrival of a vaccine is no cause for complacency in respect to hygiene and use of NZ Covid Tracer app, particularly with the emergence of more dangerous strains of the virus.
He says if the set of circumstances that occurred in the United Kingdom – which has already begun vaccination, yet suffered from an outbreak of a more virulent strain of the virus – had occurred in New Zealand, then our health system would have become completely overrun and non-functional.
“There are all sorts of threats that remain out there that we have to be wary of – and then be ready to respond whatever that challenge is,” he says.