Labour Ministers have been accused of playing politics with vaccine news in the midst of last year's election campaign.
On Tuesday, October 6, binding terms were finalised with Pfizer to secure New Zealand's first advance purchase agreement for a Covid vaccine, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) spokesperson confirmed.
However, the Beehive released the good news six days later on Monday, October 12, at the beginning of the final week of the election campaign. New Zealanders went to the polls on Saturday, October 17.
The news was jointly released by then Health Minister Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.
A spokesman for Hipkins, now Covid-19 Response Minister, denied that the delayed release of the news was election related.
"No. It would have been good news in the [previous] week leading up to the election as well ... the reason is much more prosaic. It can just take time to arrange everything and is the way announcements can sometimes work out," he said.
But opposition parties National and Act both characterised the timing as further evidence of the Government's politicised Covid-19 response.
"It was an election campaign. Governments are always going to announce things at the time most advantageous to them, particularly in the midst of an election campaign. It's a great way to start the final week of the campaign [with news] that you've secured a vaccine deal, it is what it is and I think people will see it for what it is ... it's playing politics," National Party Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop said.
Act leader David Seymour called the timing "another example of the Government's marketing-led Covid response."
Claire Robinson, a professor at Massey University, and specialist in political communications said that filling the last week of an election campaign with as much good news as possible is a common tactic.
"If it was me organising the campaign, I'd stretch it out a few days so that I could release the good news in the last week of the campaign, when there is more focused attention [by voters]."
Robinson also noted that October 17 provided Labour with a landslide victory. "In terms of the outcome, I don't think this made a difference."
Bishop said the problem with vaccine procurement was much wider than politicking.
"Why did it take us until October 2020 to get around to signing the first advance purchase agreement [for a vaccine], we were just well off the pace with the rest of the world."
The Herald revealed last week that the Cabinet (of the previous Labour-led government) waited until August 10 last year to agree funds to commence negotiations with international vaccine-makers.
At that time it also agreed funding to establish a negotiating team within MBIE.
Prior to that, the government had no mechanism by which it could pursue advance purchase deals with any Covid-19 vaccine maker.
At that point dozens of countries, including a wide range of those to which New Zealand commonly compares itself, had already signed advance purchase agreements with vaccine-makers (among them Canada, the UK, Singapore, the EU, South Korea, Israel and Japan). Australia signed its first such deal (with AstraZeneca) in the first week of September.
These advance agreements were necessary precursors to both beginning the regulatory approval process for clearing the vaccines for use and for securing supply against which doses could be ordered.