New Zealand’s vaccine rollout is well past halfway complete, with supply issues firmly in the rear-view mirror. But big disparities between regions and ethnicities remain – and we seem to be taking our foot off the gas. Henry Cooke and Kate Newton dig into the rollout.
We’re halfway there, but we’re slowing down.
New Zealand has doled out over 50 per cent of the jabs it needs to double dose everyone aged 12 or over. Supply issues that have hindered the rollout for months are gone, with plenty of jabs in the country and millions more on the way.
But huge disparities remain in the rollout – between regions and between ethnicities. The vaccination rate is nowhere near the level it would need to be to make lockdowns history. And while we’re climbing the international rankings, we still have far fewer people fully protected than most other rich nations.
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* Covid-19 NZ: New Zealand’s vaccine rollout explained in 11 charts
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* Covid-19 NZ: New Zealand hits record-high vaccine day, but many in vulnerable group 3 still unprotected
The basics: How much of the population is protected
Before we do a deep dive, let’s get the overall figures out the way.
As of midnight on Tuesday, 2.9 million New Zealanders have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
That’s well over two thirds (68 per cent) of the 12+ population who are actually eligible for the vaccine. It’s 58 per cent of the population as a whole.
Far fewer have had both doses: Just 1.5m people. That comes out to 35 per cent of the 12+ population or 30 per cent of the entire country.
Overall we are past halfway: Just under 8.7m doses will be needed to double dose all 4.3m Kiwis aged 12 or up – and 4.4m doses have been doled out, or 51 per cent of the total.
The postcode lottery
As with much of healthcare in New Zealand, where you live plays a large role in whether you are vaccinated or not.
Three-quarters (75 per cent) of those aged 12 or over living in the top and bottom of the South Island have had a first dose, as they live in the country’s two best-performing District Health Boards (DHBs) – Nelson Marlborough and Southern.
Meanwhile, just over half of those in Taranaki (55 per cent) have had a first dose – the worst-performing DHB.
These disparities between the best and worst-performing DHBs are roughly the same when it comes to full vaccinations: 44 per cent of the 12+ population in Nelson Marlborough have had both doses, compared to just 26 per cent in Taranaki.
For the major centres there has been some real movement in recent weeks, however.
Auckland and Wellington’s DHBs have been on a bit of a tear for first doses. Wellington’s two DHBs have got 73 per cent of their 12+ population jabbed with at least one dose, while Auckland’s three DHBs have jabbed 70 per cent.
This is quite a big gain for Wellington, which had been lagging Auckland – something you can still see when it comes to the number of people fully vaccinated, with Wellington at 30 per cent compared to Auckland’s 36 per cent.
Christchurch lags both other major centres on first doses and full vaccinations. Just 29 per cent of its 12+ population is fully protected and 61 per cent has had a single jab.
How fast are we going? When will we finish?
New Zealand’s vaccine rollout sped up massively after the outbreak in Auckland.
On August 27, an unprecedented 93,000 Kiwis got a jab, over 1.8 per cent of the entire country. Our average rate of doses per day was higher than almost every other western country had reached.
Looking back though, this was probably New Zealand’s peak. Our rate has dropped down to jabbing around 1.1 per cent of the population a day – still a decent rate, but not as high as it was. After two weeks where the country was administering around 540,000 doses a week, the week to Sunday saw just 428,000.
This slows down projections for when the rollout might “finish”.
Obviously, not every New Zealander aged 12+ will get the vaccine. Some will choose not to and some just won’t be reached by the healthcare system.
But for the purpose of illustration, if Kiwis continued to get the jab at the same rate they have for the last week, the whole rollout would finish on November 26 – with everyone aged 12 or over having had both vaccines.
If we look at just first doses, which provide some protection, and again project out from the current rate, then 80 per cent of those aged 12 or over would have had a first dose by September 28, 90 per cent by October 9, and 100 per cent by October 21. Again – it is clear that not everyone will get a jab, and the rate may drop further.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the vaccine takes two weeks for full effectiveness. So if you’re looking for a magic date when enough people are protected that life can really go back to normal? It will be a few more months.
How do we compare with the rest of the world?
New Zealand’s international vaccine performance can be seen through two distinct lenses.
If you look at first doses, we are steadily moving up the charts, beating out Australia and a handful of European and Latin American countries in the OECD grouping of rich nations.
Indeed, we are likely to pass the USA in the next week on this metric, unless the vaccine rollout slows more.
But if you look at second doses, which offer full protection, we are second from the bottom – just marginally ahead of Costa Rica. This is because the vaccine rollout is very firmly focused on first doses right now.
You can blend these figures to get a more holistic picture, by looking at vaccine doses per 100 people. On this metric we are again not quite at the bottom but not far from it – and remain behind the countries we traditionally compare ourselves to.
The most vulnerable are still behind
New Zealand’s vaccine rollout was intentionally staggered, with the most needy getting the jab first.
These priority groups covered border workers in group 1, healthcare workers and rest home residents in group 2, the older and more vulnerable in group 3, and the general population in group 4.
But these priority groups have overlapped massively, and many in group 3 remain unprotected – even while group 4 races ahead.
Part of the issue here is simply counting: The Government has no real idea how many people fit into group 3, which includes everyone aged 65+, the disabled, pregnant people, and those who have a disease like asthma that might make a Covid-19 infection particularly dangerous.
It knows there are around 750,000 people aged 65+, but can only hazard a guess at the rest of the people in the group: It estimates there are somewhere between 700,000 and 1.2 million of these people. That means group 3 could be anywhere between 1.45m and 1.95m people.
Even without an exact figure, it’s clear that many in this group are not yet vaccinated. Just 741,000 people in group 3 have had a single dose, and only 574,000 have had both. Given we know there are at least 750,000 people aged 65+ – as well as all those other vulnerable groups – many are not yet protected.
Meanwhile, group 4 has raced ahead with 1.6m people having had a first jab.
Stuff has asked the Ministry of Health about this discrepancy and received a written statement suggesting DHBs have “ongoing plans” to make sure those in group 3 are getting access to vaccines. Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has noted in earlier weeks that many people technically eligible for group 3 may just be saying they are in group 4 when turning up for a jab.
Another way we can look at vulnerable populations is ethnicity, given research shows Māori are far more likely to be hospitalised and die if they are infected with Covid-19.
Māori are still behind the rest of the population, with just 23 per cent of the population protected, compared to 38 per cent of Pākehā.
Some of this can be explained by age structure: Older people are more likely to have had a vaccine, and the Māori population is younger than the general population.
But not all of it – even within age bands Māori are well-behind the general population.
A Māori person aged 20-34 is about half as likely to have had either one or two jabs as someone in the general population.