New Zealand's Covid-19 vaccination drive could be boosted by mega-clinics at stadiums - and inoculation will also happen at GP clinics, pharmacies, and likely in large workplaces and on school and sports grounds.
In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with the Weekend Herald, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins also revealed:
• People who decline vaccination will not be entered on to a new immunisation register, or any other database.
• Fresh talks with the "overwhelmingly enthusiastic" business community show many want to offer vaccination onsite.
• Officials are closely monitoring overseas efforts to set-up "vaccine passport" systems, to "make sure that what we are doing is compatible with any international regime that might be developed".
The largest vaccination campaign in Aotearoa's history began yesterday, when some of the trained nurses who will give the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine received the shot themselves at Auckland's Jet Park Hotel, which has acted as a quarantine facility throughout a pandemic that shut our borders and claimed millions of lives around the world.
From today, vaccinations will be given to frontline workers in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and who work at or near the border. They include cleaners, nurses, security staff, Customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers.
The next phase will cover the people they live with, and then groups deemed at higher need or risk.
The general population will likely be offered vaccination in the second half of the year, and Hipkins said planning was under way for how to "scale up to quite a significant number of different places where you can get vaccines".
GP practices would be used, as would trained pharmacists. Covid-19 testing had shown some people were reluctant to go to a GP, because they associate doing so with a fee, even though there was no charge.
"We know there's almost a subconscious reluctance there, which there might not be with a pharmacist. So we are working to make sure they are available through pharmacies."
Temporary, drive-thru "community-based assessment centres" for Covid-19 testing had proven popular - with one set-up at Eden Park - and similar models were being considered for when vaccinations were able to be widely offered.
"There are stadia, sports venues - those sorts of places - even schools, those are the sorts of things we might be looking at. That planning work is well underway, and when we are ready to hit go on the bigger roll-out, that's when we will start to share more of the detail on that."
Could that mean vaccines given at Eden Park, Mt Smart or Wellington's Sky Stadium?
"Yeah. The key thing you want is for people to get there easily - public transport, good parking - you want to have plenty of space, so they can spread out while they are waiting, and then the ability for them to leave quickly."
Another consideration is whether such venues would use appointments or more of a drop-in approach.
"It may be that we ask people to register an intention - so rather than a specific booking, we get them to say, 'I'm intending to go to this place at this time', so we can manage the workforce and vaccine supplies."
Details of vaccinations - and when the crucial follow-up dose is due - will be stored in a new database, the Covid Immunisation Register, which will eventually expand to cover all immunisations and replace a badly outdated system.
There would be a way for people to check their vaccine status, Hipkins said, and if given by a GP they'd be able to phone the practice and check.
About 20 to 30 per cent of New Zealanders were "vaccine hesitant", and he was confident a significant number would eventually choose to be inoculated.
"I think initially we won't be [recording those who decline] on an individualised level, but we will be working with employers and community groups where we know there are higher degrees of vaccine hesitancy," he said.
"Their hesitancy isn't because they don't believe in vaccinations, it's just they are concerned about the newness of the vaccine, that it's been developed quickly. They just want to know it's safe, and as they see more people getting it and see it's safe, they will come forward."
Vaccines will be free, but evidence from other no-charge health initiatives shows some people can struggle to get out of work to attend appointments, or find money for transport or childcare.
Hipkins, Health Minister Andrew Little and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with Auckland employers last week, and he said they were "overwhelmingly enthusiastic" about helping their employees get vaccinated.
"We know a lot of large workplaces will be looking to do vaccination onsite ... at the end of the day it's not a big commitment of time - you are talking about half an hour per dose, so an hour in total over the course of a month.
"I think we can do this. I think people will want the vaccine. I think employers will want them to have the vaccine. I'm feeling pretty optimistic about that."
Asked if the vaccination status of returnees to New Zealand would be added to the immunisation register, Hipkins noted efforts by the International Air Transport Association to allow people to use a "travel pass" app to store and prove vaccine and testing information.
"We haven't made yet any decisions about whether New Zealand might look to do something, and what our criteria may be.
"But I think it is quite realistic to expect that countries will start to introduce vaccine prerequisite requirements before travel. There's work going on internationally, and our Mfat [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade] and transport officials are involved in this, in making sure that what we are doing is compatible with any international regime that might be developed."
About 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country on Monday morning - enough to cover around 30,000 people, given the vaccine needs two doses, given about three weeks apart.
The Government has agreements to buy four different vaccines, and is aiming to vaccinate 90 per cent of the population. Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said 70 per cent vaccination would be the minimum needed for herd immunity, depending on factors including vaccine efficacy.
Hipkins said efficacy was the "big question mark" in terms of setting a target to reach herd immunity.
"I'm not going to set a blunt target, because at this point we haven't got enough information to know exactly how that's going to break down."