Last week I went searching for news on the ‘flu vaccine programme and came across a page with the Ministry of Health policy:
From 2019 the Annual Influenza Immunisation Programme (the Programme) will start from 1 April each year.
This start date differs from previous years when the Programme started as soon as the influenza vaccine became available, generally by early March. The Ministry has considered a range of factors in making this decision including: emerging evidence on the effectiveness of influenza vaccines, influenza surveillance data, the impact of the start date on service delivery and feedback from the sector.
The start date from 1 April will be subject to the vaccine being available for distribution across New Zealand by then. Changes to vaccine strains can result in longer manufacturing lead time and the arrival of vaccines in late rather than early March.
Duration of influenza vaccine protection
New evidence shows that vaccine effectiveness begins to decline after influenza vaccination. Maximum protection from influenza is observed around two weeks after vaccination and starts to decline by about 7 percent every month. . . .
Influenza activity may occur throughout the year with the peak incidence during the winter months. New Zealand’s surveillance data shows that the peak has moved to August in recent years. Influenza surveillance data and the shift in peak influenza activity, in conjunction with declining vaccine effectiveness supports a change in the start date. The programme start date from 1 April ensures better protection against influenza during the peak incidence particularly for our most vulnerable populations. . .
That all seems reasonable but yesterday I checked the MOH website and found this:
The 2021 Influenza Immunisation Programme will commence on 14 April 2021, with a two-week priority period for people eligible for a free influenza vaccination. These dates are dependent on approval by the regulator.
We ask vaccinators to focus on immunising those who are eligible for a funded vaccination for the first two weeks of the programme to protect as many of those who are at greatest risk first, well ahead of the influenza season.
The first week of the prioritisation period is only for adults aged 65 and over and there is an additional vaccine this year that is specifically intended for this population.
The second week of the prioritisation period, from 21 April, extends to all those eligible for a funded vaccination.
Vaccination can then be extended to include the general population from 28 April 2021. . .
April 14 is two weeks later and April 21 three weeks later, than the policy to start the programme on April 1.
That probably won’t matter for the people on the priority list.
But if the general population doesn’t start to get their vaccinations until 28th of April and the vaccine doesn’t reach maximum effectiveness for two weeks, are most people going to be at risk of contracting the disease before they’re protected?
Perhaps I’m being paranoid when there are so few people coming into the country, the risk of ‘flu might be much less than it would have been pre-Covid.
But this is the Ministry that bungled the measles vaccination. It’s also the Ministry that swore black and blue that there was plenty of stock for last year’s ‘flu vaccination rollout while those on the ground who were supposed to be administering them were saying there wasn’t, and they were eventually proved right.
It’s also the Ministry that’s in charge of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, for which we haven’t been told a plan, and for which there is no target:
National is calling on the Government to make a statement of intent about protecting New Zealanders from Covid-19 by setting a target of having at least 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“New Zealand is one of only a few countries in the OECD that doesn’t have a target for how many adults should be vaccinated. The others are Colombia and Mexico.
“Almost all countries are setting a vaccination target – usually 70 per cent of the adult population – and a date for achieving that target. New Zealand isn’t doing this either.
“The best the Government can say is that it wants all New Zealanders to be offered a vaccine by the end of the year. This isn’t good enough.
“We should be setting an ambitious target and going for it. A target will make sure the health system is focused, and means vaccination progress can be meaningfully tracked.
“Targets exist for the measles and flu vaccines. Not having one for Covid-19 suggests the Government doesn’t want to be held to account on this.
“If KiwiBuild taught us anything, it’s that the Labour Government isn’t great at hitting targets. But that shouldn’t matter. Our Covid-19 vaccine rollout is too important not to have one.
Mr Bishop also criticised the slow pace of the Government’s vaccine rollout to date, and the lack of transparency about how many vaccines are being administered in New Zealand.
“Most countries are doing daily, or near-daily, updates on how many people are being vaccinated. New Zealand has to settle for sporadic updates, randomly announced by Chris Hipkins or Ashley Bloomfield.
“New Zealanders should be getting near-daily announcements, published by the Ministry of Health, so everyone can see how our vaccine rollout is going. This isn’t rocket science – it already happens with testing and tracing.
“New Zealand started slow on vaccinations and we’re falling further behind the rest of the world. The latest available public information shows we have administered just 0.56 vaccines per 100 people, while Australia has administered 1.21 vaccines per 100 people.
“We weren’t at the front of the queue for receiving vaccines, like the Government said we were, and our vaccine rollout started slow because of this. It needs to gather pace.”
Call me cynical if you like, but the government is always keen to tell us the good news.
That it has made no mention of this year’s ‘flu vaccination programme, is being quiet about how many people have received the Covid-19 vaccine, has given only vague details about its roll-out to the general population, and appears to have no plan to set targets feeds the suspicion that it doesn’t have any good news about any of this.