No, we haven’t run out of vaccine

By Stuff reporter

The Whole Truth: Covid-19 Vaccination | From Stuff reporter Kate Newton

You might have heard the country is on the brink of running out of Pfizer vaccine doses. The good news is that’s not true.

The bad news (which is also kind of good news) is that some areas are vaccinating so many extra people that we’re going through our stocks of Pfizer faster than planned.

The latest confusion has come about because of an announcement the government made on June 8, that Pfizer would send one million extra doses of vaccine in July.

Because of global demand for its vaccine, Pfizer has only been confirming the exact details of shipments a few weeks before they arrive in Aotearoa.

It had already promised our government that the July shipments would be much bigger than all the shipments to date - which have been arriving at a rate of 50,000 to 80,000 doses a week.

That supply rate was fine when we weren’t vaccinating many people. But now we’re giving more than 100,000 doses a week and starting to eat into the supplies that have been built up.

People in some areas have reported not being able to get a vaccine because some sites have run out of doses, or are running low.

This isn’t surprising, because every district health board outside of Auckland has gone above its target number of vaccinations. In three areas - Bay of Plenty, Whanganui and Nelson-Marlborough - they’ve done more than 50 per cent extra.

So those July shipments are really important, especially because the roll-out is meant to keep ramping up.

The million doses would take the total number of doses delivered to New Zealand to more than 1.9 million, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said. That number was repeated in a press release the government sent out - and that’s where the confusion has come from.

Subtracting the July shipments from 1.9 million suggests 900,000 doses would’ve been shipped by the time the motherlode arrives. But on the day of the announcement, New Zealand had already received more than 900,000 doses - 971,000 to be precise.

So does that mean we’re not getting any further shipments until July? If that were the case, we’d have a problem: we’d burn through our existing stock sometime during the week starting June 21.

But that’s not the case. For some reason, the numbers in the government’s announcement didn’t include the additional shipments it was still expecting in June. The very next day, updated supply numbers showed that, yes, vaccine doses were continuing to arrive in the country, with another 50,000 due next week.

The government is still cutting it very fine - and it has admitted that on several occasions, saying there is a chance the programme could slow down towards the end of this month.

Hipkins said this week that the shipment sizes would really start to ramp up in the latter half of July. Assuming the bulk of those million doses arrive in the final two weeks of July, vaccine supplies could drop as low as 50,000 doses in hand by early July, if the roll-out doesn’t slow down.

The greater question is whether the roll-out is reaching the people it should. Last week, epidemiologist Michael Baker raised concerns with Stuff that the roll-out was moving on to vaccinating people in Group 3 without having completed Groups 1 and 2.

After July, we don’t know what the picture looks like. But the bottom line for now is - the roll-out is currently ahead of the government’s self-imposed target, with no imminent risk of running out of vaccine.