Media release: Covid-19 vaccine roll-out - still much to do to scale up

18 May 2021

Auditor-General John Ryan says that his audit has confirmed the health sector is working hard to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination programme. However, a significant scale-up is required to achieve the Government’s vaccination goals.

Published today, Preparations for the nationwide roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine looks at how ready the health sector, led by the Ministry of Health, is to meet the Government’s goal of vaccinating as many people as possible, aged 16 and over, by the end of 2021.

New Zealand is in a good position with its contracted supply of vaccines. The Government has secured enough doses to vaccinate all New Zealanders and a number of Pacific countries.

However, some uncertainty remains about exactly when the majority of doses will arrive in New Zealand over the rest of the year. This could affect the timing of the roll-out.

The report describes some good early progress. At the time the audit was completed, nearly 400,000 doses had been administered.

This progress has relied on current vaccination staff and systems. However, what is in place now will not be sufficient when the number of people to be vaccinated increases significantly over the second half of the year.

The Ministry has a high-level plan in place, but there is still a lot of work to do. Some aspects of the plan are still not fully developed. Information systems are still being worked on. If everything goes to plan these will be ready, but only just in time.

“Problems are inevitable in a programme of this scale and complexity. It is important that the Ministry continues to be transparent about the uncertainty and challenges ahead,” says Mr Ryan.

“I am not yet confident that all the pieces will fall into place quickly enough for the programme to ramp up to the level required over the second half of 2021. There is a real risk that it will take more time than currently anticipated to get there.”

At the time of the Office’s work, significant risks remained regarding having enough vaccinators; having an improved distribution model to ensure vaccine doses are delivered to the right place, at the right time, to minimise wastage; and ensuring that Māori, Pasifika, people with disabilities, and hard to reach communities are vaccinated.

More work is needed to ensure contingency plans are in place in case of any disruption – such as with the vaccine supply, not having enough vaccinators, or a further community outbreak.

The Office reviewed the roll-out in its early stages to help the Ministry identify improvements, and make changes, before it rolls out the vaccine to the general population.

The report makes six recommendations to help the Ministry of Health improve its communications with the public; complete its contingency plans; and provide more guidance and clarity to the wider health sector.