District health boards need to take some responsibility for getting 700,000 flu jabs to the places that need them, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
This year has seen a record-breaking run of flu vaccinations given, in a bid to take pressure off New Zealand's hospital system ahead of a possible surge in Covid-19 cases.
The country is on track for one in three Kiwis to get their shot, compared to the norm of one in four.
But some GPs and pharmacies have been unable to get the doses they need.
The Government has said there's plenty of supply - about 700,000 vaccine doses are in fridges around the country - but distribution within district health board areas is falling short.
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Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning asked Ardern how it was possible to "lose 700,000 flu jabs".
"We haven't lost 700,000 flu jabs," Ardern said. "They are with GP clinics, pharmacies and those medical centres who dispatch them. We've actually put out more flu jabs than we have at any time by this point in the season, ever."
But Hosking said that was "irrelevant ... people who wanted flu jabs can't get them because when they go to the doctor they haven't got them".
Ardern said that was "absolutely a misrepresentation".
Hosking said the medical profession had been saying for weeks they could not get access to flu jabs.
"Grant Robertson said on Friday there are 700,000 out in the community. [Associate health minister Julie Anne Genter] gets rolled out Saturday saying whoops, sorry, we're not sure exactly where they are and not everyone's going to get one," he said.
But Ardern said there had been 1.3 million vaccines distributed to date to DHBs.
"Those DHBs then distribute them across their pharmacies, their GPs. They prioritised the elderly and the vulnerable to make sure that they were vaccinated first, and 451,000 of them have been."
The remaining vaccines then sat with those GPs and pharmacies. An inventory of every GP in the country found there were 700,000 doses remaining, Ardern said.
"But they then need to be moved around by the head of immunisation at each DHB and we let them do that job," she said. "If a medical centre finds it doesn't have enough flu vaccine, it contacts its local immunisation coordinator and they're moved around."
Asked if medical professionals who claimed they couldn't get vaccines were wrong, and needed to find the doses themselves, Ardern said: "I would argue that DHBs need to take some responsibility for making sure people have the flu jabs that they need.
"We will do our job of getting additional vaccines in the country - and we are. We have expectations that we will have a total of 1.7m vaccines - more than we have ever vaccinated for the flu ever before in New Zealand."
Prioritising the most vulnerable to get their jabs had been successful, Ardern said.
"You do understand that I'm not personally responsible for the dispatch and logistical arrangements."
And she had "never ever argued that there haven't been potentially issues of people having to locate within their DHB new vaccines. Of course clearly we've heard those stories. What I'm arguing is we have vaccine."
Amidst the looming Covid-19 crisis, the initial vaccination programme was brought forward to March 18 to ensure high-risk groups such as over 65s and pregnant women were prioritised.
While other groups were meant to get the vaccine from mid-April, that date was pushed back till April 28 to ensure vulnerable people were covered.
Distribution issues included some wholesalers found to be hoarding doses to sell to the private sector, an issue Associate Health Minister Julie Ann Genter said was "unfortunate" and "disappointing".
The resulting 60-dose limit on orders saw some GPs unable to vaccinate a backlog of patients while other clinics' orders have reportedly been cancelled. OmniHealth said last week up to 7000 priority people at its centres were yet to be vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health expects the next shipment of 320,000 doses to arrive the week beginning May 11. Orders placed before April 27 will be filled but there could be a delay and appointments for vaccinations should be booked only once the stock is in, the ministry says.