As long as the country's most vulnerable are vaccinated New Zealand will be protected from a "severe outbreak", a top epidemiologist says.
The comments came yesterday in response to a political dispute over whether the general rollout had been delayed.
The Ministry of Health on Friday quietly updated its vaccination timeline for group four, the general population.
That rollout will now begin at the end of July; previously, the official advice was "from July", with the wording changed on the website without any official announcement.
National's Covid-19 spokesman, Chris Bishop, said it looked like a "surreptitious attempt to hide the fact our vaccination roll out is slow".
It followed a similar situation in April when the Ministry website was updated for when group three - over-65s and those most vulnerable - would be vaccinated from "May" to "late May".
It also comes a week after Auditor-General John Ryan's review of the rollout found a "real risk" that not everybody would be vaccinated by the end of year as planned.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday refused to admit the change in date was a delay.
"July is July - so it will still be from July," he said.
As of Wednesday 562,149 Covid vaccines had been administered - 85,000 more than this time last week.
Both doses had been given to 195,000 people. This was 8 per cent ahead of the rollout schedule, Hipkins said.
The Government was waiting on the next shipment of Pfizer vaccines, which was still expected in July.
Vaccine supply was likely to be running low by the end of June, meaning group four would need to wait while group three was completed, however there could be some overlap, Hipkins said.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said rather than trying to hide information, by changing the wording the Ministry was attempting to provide more clarity, as had been recommended in the Auditor-General's review.
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the main concern was ensuring groups one and two - border and healthcare workers, and then group three who were those most vulnerable to the health risks, were vaccinated.
"Once our most vulnerable are protected and with our borders secure we will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. While it would still be below the level of herd immunity it means we would could sustain even a severe outbreak."
Hipkins said district health boards were now vaccinating people in Group three, those aged over-65 and the most vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid-19 (there are one million people in this group).
However these vaccinations would likely push into July, and could overlap with group four, Hipkins said.
Baker said any overlap would need to be carefully managed to ensure people in group four were not displacing more vulnerable people.
The Government also announced saliva testing will be expanded for workers at the front line of the Covid response, with Asia Pacific Healthcare Group awarded the tender. That means 1400 border workers will be tested this way.
Workers who needed nasal tests once a week could have a saliva test every few days, and nasal test fortnightly, which remained "the gold standard" of testing, Hipkins said.
Baker, who has long called for saliva testing to be expanded, said the increased frequency of testing would "greatly improve the ability to detect and prevent an outbreak".
Meanwhile health officials continued to keep a "close eye" on the situation in Melbourne, Bloomfield said, with 15 cases identified in the latest outbreak.
Pausing the bubble for 72 hours from Tuesday was an "appropriate and proportionate" response given the evolving situation in Victoria, he said.
The pause would be evaluated 48 hours after it began, he said, meaning it could be extended on Thursday.
He said there was still the possibility of undetected community transmission in Victoria.
Two people had contacted the Ministry of Health in New Zealand to say they had been in one of the locations of interest in Melbourne - both travellers had returned negative tests, Bloomfield said.
There were no new Covid cases to report in managed isolation or the community on Wednesday.