Dunne Speaks: Things Are Already Getting “hairy”!

Credit: Original article can be found here

Chris Hipkins’ admission that things could get “a bit
hairy” if Covid19 vaccine supplies do not arrive as
planned in early July could be applied to all aspects of the
government’s Covid19 response.

In stark contrast to
its approach during the early stages of the pandemic
outbreak when it was so certain and assured, the government
now looks indecisive, hesitant and uncertain. Very little
seems to be going according to plan, and there is even doubt
that there is much of a plan anymore.

Last year, New
Zealand’s commitment to an elimination strategy was hailed
around the world as an example other nations should be
following. Now, top epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker
says New Zealand is the “last man standing” in still
believing that an elimination strategy can work.

Late
last year, just before the election the government assured
us “we were at the head of the queue” when it came to
obtaining vaccines. Now, when we have the lowest rate of
vaccination of most of the developed countries, senior
Minister David Parker, an intelligent man who really should
know better, says the “head of the queue” comment only
ever related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, not to vaccination
as a whole.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was approved for
use in Britain last December. Since then, it has been
approved throughout the European Union, in Asia, Canada and
Australia, the Indian subcontinent and even in Brazil whose
President continues to deny Covid19 is a problem at all.
Meanwhile, according to Minister Hipkins, it is unlikely to
be approved for use in New Zealand before the end of the
year. Yet Medsafe follows the advice of other regulators
like the European Medicines Authority, the United States’
Food and Drug Administration and Australia’s Therapeutic
Goods Administration (all of whom have already approved the
AstraZeneca vaccine) meaning there is no reason for its
approval in New Zealand being delayed any further.

So
far, “head of the queue” New Zealand has fully
vaccinated less than 8% of its population, well below
Israel’s 60%, the United Kingdom’s 48%, or the United
States’ 46%. Even denialist Brazil has so far fully
vaccinated 12% of its population – just over 50% more in
percentage terms than New Zealand. Our approach to date to
securing vaccines offers no hope that New Zealand’s
relative position will improve any time
soon.

Countries across Europe, the United Kingdom,
Singapore and others are now well advanced on the
development of their own “roadmaps” out of Covid19. In
New Zealand, however, although there is a team of officials
supposedly working on this, their work appears to be given
little priority by Ministers. The Prime Minister has
consistently declined to be specific about timeframes for
removing Covid19 restrictions, or whether she was even
prepared to look at options like vaccination passports.
However, one of her senior external advisers, Sir Brian
Roche, did observe recently that New Zealand could be facing
a further three to five years of
restrictions.

Meanwhile, consistent with Professor
Baker’s “last man standing” comment other countries
are learning how to live with Covid19. Singapore has
recently announced a post Covid19 roadmap towards living
with Covid19, based on expanding vaccination and rigorous
testing, instead of continuing with its strict rules
governing social gatherings, mask-wearing, contact-tracing
and travel.

Anyone watching the European Football
Championship or the tennis at Wimbledon will have noticed
the large crowds in attendance. Yet, we keep being told that
although such things have been normal here for some time, it
is only because we have done so well in eliminating the
virus here. The fact that other countries, where the
incidence of Covid19 has been far worse, are now able to
return to relative normality, including allowing large-scale
public gatherings and opening their borders, through
vaccination and testing, seems to be completely ignored
here.

The failures surrounding the vaccination
programme are unconscionable. Not only have we failed to
secure sufficient stocks to ensure the fast roll-out of the
programme we were promised, the management of the roll-out
has been inconsistent and unclear. Previously identified key
population groups like the frail elderly are still not fully
vaccinated, and there is confusion over the timetable for
the rest of the population.

Now, with the experts
suggesting that a national vaccination rate of 83% to 97% of
the total population is required to be certain of herd
immunity being achieved, Minister Hipkins refuses to commit
to that goal being achieved, let alone by the end of the
year. Yet previously we were told that achieving herd
immunity was an important step along the way to our
returning to normality. Perhaps this is what Sir Brian Roche
was referring to when he spoke of three to five more years
of restrictions.

When the Prime Minister far too
prematurely and quite erroneously proclaimed to the world
just on a year ago that we had eliminated the virus and were
looking to an early lifting of restrictions, we looked for a
brief moment like world leaders. Since then, we have
constantly slipped back and now lag behind many countries in
adjusting to the new world order imposed by Covid19 and
getting back to normal. Perhaps that is why she seems to be
playing a far less public role in the government’s Covid19
response these days.

It is surely time for a Covid19
policy reset before things get any more “hairy”. That
reset should have two prongs. First, the government and its
specialist agencies need to be much more aggressive in
securing and approving the vaccines needed to guarantee mass
population vaccination by at least the end of the year.
Second, the government needs to pay far more urgent
attention to the development of the post Covid19 roadmap to
get away from the impression we are trapped in some sort of
Covid19 time warp we cannot or will not escape from, unlike
other countries.

After all, if we really were one of
the first countries to eliminate Covid19 as the Prime
Minister claimed, we should not be one of the last, as now
seems increasingly likely, to escape its
clutches.

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