Mark Twain, amongst others, popularised the famous quote 'there's lies, damned lies, and statistics'. Numbers have long created justification for many things – wars, economics, business change, and now pandemic targets.
As a marketer, I'm surrounded by numbers and a few handy acronyms – target audience size, business objectives, results, awareness, ROI, NPS, CSAT. I'm used to working out what's achievable, unrealistic, stretch, or easy peasy.
The current statistic in question, which requires significant interrogation, is 90 per cent. What is 90 per cent? It's not even 90 per cent of all Kiwis, it's of the 'eligible' population. It's also 90 per cent x 20 (DHBs). Apparently, this is a prime number that is not divisible. Unless it's by 3, but that's geographically fixed for greater Auckland only. It gets us to a red traffic light – not even a Go sign!
We have a veritable infographic of numbers floating around. There's 9, which is the number of months ago that Israel introduced their vaccine passport. There's 1, which is the number of countries that have vaccinated over 90 per cent of their eligible population (it's the United Arab Emirates before you ask). There's 100 million, which is how many covid vaccines were administered in the USA by March 19th. There's, depending on which report you read, between 1-3 per cent of hospitalisations due to Covid 19 of those who've been vaccinated, meaning over 96 per cent of NZ hospitalisations are unvaccinated. There's 3, which was the original suggested number of weeks between Pfizer doses. And then there's 6, another suggested number of weeks between doses. There's 80, which is how many days Auckland has been in lockdown, and 50, which is how many days there are until Christmas. And there's 27,500, about the number of cars rolling along State Highway 1 at the Bombay Hills every day – how's that going to work for police checking people are vaxed at Christmas time?
The number that worries me the most is 0.2 per cent. That's roughly speaking how many more vaccinations we are getting a day. At time of writing, we need to keep knocking off 0.2 from 12.4; when we get to 10, we've got to a national first dose target of 90 per cent. So, easy numbers eh? 0.2 a day, that's 1.0 in 5 days, so about 12 days to get to that number. That's around November 16th. That's the first dose cracked. Then we wait…three weeks to December 7th? Is that national 'liberation day' (aka red traffic light)? Or is it…six weeks to, crikey, after Christmas Day? And is liberation day simply an encouraging red traffic light which still makes it hard for business especially hospitality? Will the government commit to an instant triggering based on reaching a statistic?
I don't need $6 million of government funding and a fancy data model to tell you the last few yards are going to be a lot harder, we may start bumping along at 0.1 per cent a day to get to 90 per cent first vax, and similar to second vax. We're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel of vaccine-hesitant, deniers, the duped by misleading social media, and fortunately for us, and maybe our saviour here, the communities the government has failed to get to and work with to maximise vaccination rates.
The Ministry of Health has been far too linear and Wellington-centric here; for instance, who'd have thought people in Kawerau might not want or be able to drive 30 mins to Whakatane? Fancy that! It's great to now see more money and resource announced to help less urban communities, let's hope it goes where it matters quickly. I'm not buoyed with optimism, evinced by the absurdity that Whānau Ora chief executive John Tamihere had to take the Ministry of Health to court to release personal data to help his organisation get on the phone to encourage people to get vaxed. Barriers like that during a pandemic seem madness.
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The real date of 90 per cent fully vaccinated could conceivably stretch to January.
For hospo, hairdressers and retail, there's a massive gulf between trading from 1 December, and from 24 December. Probably solvency for many, regardless of government subsidies (which we will all be paying for, for decades to come, it's not free money).
90 per cent is just a statistic. Why can't we move to the 'red light' at 85 per cent? Or call it at 1 December, whatever the number – because then another marketing technique comes in – it's a deadline, like a sale ending. Provided we make sure the vulnerable have been given a fair go, can the country really afford to wait on the rest? No one in Auckland, for sure, can now claim it's hard to get a vaccine.
So, let's pick a better statistic, or better still, a hard deadline to drive urgency. As Mark Twain said, there are "lies, damned lies and statistics".
- Ben Goodale is the CEO of advertising agency Quantum Jump, and loves a good chat about statistics, preferably over a glass of wine at a restaurant.