The Ministry of Health is considering starting vaccinations in South Auckland as a priority after border workers, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.
Otago University academic and GP Ben Gray this morning called for South Auckland vaccinations to begin this month. Cabinet ministers have received advice regarding a nationwide vaccination schedule but have yet to finalise or publish a complete plan.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said frontline health and emergency workers would be up next, after border workers and their families, but further decisions had yet to be signed off by Cabinet.
Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare said although the Government was still working on the order of vaccinations he was confident that the first phase of vaccinations, of border workers and families, would take in a number of Māori people and in particular people in South Auckland.
At today's 1pm briefing Bloomfield said he had asked his team to start thinking about it.
"If we think about our border workforce ... majority of them are based in South Auckland, and also the fact that the last two outbreaks we've had in the community have been in South Auckland," he said.
"We're putting a layer of protection by vaccinating that border workforce and their whānau, and then I think it makes sense that very early on when we start to roll out further the next layer of protection out would be to not just protect that community but we would be protecting the wider country by starting to protect that community."
Health expert wants travellers prioritised for vaccine
People travelling overseas and returning to New Zealand should be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine - above the vulnerable and elderly - if New Zealand wants to continue its elimination plan of stopping Covid-19 at the border, Gray said.
Gray acknowledges prioritising "privileged people who can afford to travel" might raise concern.
However, Gray, who specialises in primary health care and general practice, says the community benefits to keeping Covid-19 out of New Zealand are greater than the controversy that comes with the idea.
But New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said irrespective of what happens at the border, it was still critical that elderly people in care were prioritised because if Covid-19 gets into rest homes people may die.
The Ministry of Health had advised the association that aged residential care staff and residents would be next in line for the vaccine following frontline healthcare workers, and this would start from April, he said.
Otago University epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker did not think vaccinating New Zealand travellers was high on the Government's list like it was Gray's or that there much support in general for Kiwis going overseas for holiday purposes.
However, he said it raised a good issue and specific policies on vaccinating travellers including vaccination passports would be something that needed to be addressed in the next few months.
Baker said after border workers and frontline health workers, he expected the Government would then start vaccinating people who were more vulnerable based on age, ethnicity and health conditions.
Industry asks if truck drivers will get vaccine priority
To ensure continuity in the supply chain, the road freight industry needs to know when truck drivers will receive the Covid-19 vaccine, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett says.
Leggett said he enquired about Covid-19 vaccination prioritisation that the Government would be using to determine workers in essential industries, when he wrote to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins in January.
"The trucking industry is keen to understand when its frontline workers - mainly drivers - might be in line for a vaccination and whether they will be given priority over the general population, given their importance in keeping the supply chain running," Leggett said.
"We see increasing urgency in getting truck drivers vaccinated when you note what is happening in Auckland, our largest city and home to our major port."
Leggett said the "yo-yoing lockdowns" had a significant effect on moving freight and Covid outbreaks in Auckland put a large workforce at risk.
"Ports of Auckland and other port workers are being vaccinated and it is only a matter of time before high-risk businesses start demanding any workers to their sites also be vaccinated."
The Road Transport Forum asked the Minister to consider the driver workforce as a priority due to the work they undertake, Leggett said.
"Transport operators are keen to mitigate risk and exposure of their employees to Covid-19 as soon as possible and some clarity on vaccination prioritisation would be useful so they can plan."
- With RNZ