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It would have been too much to expect the United States’ scheme to proceed smoothly given the shambles of that country’s Covid-19 response, but reports have included vaccines spoiling, inadequate training for staff and staff shortages in already stretched health services, and some areas receiving fewer doses than expected. The country is well behind the touted 20million people expected to have received a vaccination by the end of last year.
France, which has a particularly high rate of vaccine scepticism, has had an extremely slow start to its programme. Supply shortages have affected several countries with some delaying the second dose of two-dose vaccines as a result.
In New Zealand, we are fortunate that, without current community transmission of Covid-19, the urgency for vaccination is not the same as those countries where the disease is still running rampant and where the new, more contagious strains have taken hold.
The first people to be vaccinated, in the second quarter of the year, will be border workers, the managed isolation and quarantine workers, the Covid-19 frontline healthcare workers and their household contacts. This will be followed by the general population in stages in the second half of the year, according to the pre-Christmas announcements from the Government.
This order of vaccinations would change in the event of widespread community transmission and the plan must be nimble enough to cope with this.
The beginning of the vaccination programme will not herald an immediate opening of borders. As Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins points out, we still need more information about whether the vaccines are effective at giving protection from contracting the virus and reducing transmission. Gaining herd immunity will take time.
The Government has assured us planning is on track and we hope we can rely on that, given some of its assurances during the Covid-19 response were later found to have been wanting.
Planning includes replacing the tired National Immunisation Register with the National Immunisation Solution. This will allow any health worker to record vaccinations anywhere any time and the public will be able to digitally access their own immunisation records too.
As well, an inventory management system for the vaccines will hold information about where the vaccines are, with oversight of volumes, temperature and expiry, in the hope of minimising wastage.
Those familiar with past glitches in government IT systems, including in the health realm, could be forgiven for regarding these plans with some nervousness.
AND ANOTHER THING
Concern has been raised that data from the Government’s Covid tracer app is not legally protected from being accessed for something other than tracing your Covid contacts.
The Ministry of Health has given assurances it will only use the data for contact tracing in the event of you contracting the disease, but that does not limit the power of other agencies.
A research fellow at the University of Auckland’s Koi Tu: The Centre for Informed Futures Dr Andrew Chen points out current law does not prevent the police or another agency such as an intelligence service seeking a warrant to access that information on someone’s phone. While he considers it is unlikely this would happen, giving this extra protection and clarification around data use would improve confidence and trust in the app.
Australia has amended its privacy law, setting out who can and cannot use app data and for what purpose. Intelligence agencies there which had collected tracer app data incidentally were required to delete it and were not allowed to use it.
Maybe it is time our law caught up with our friends across the Ditch.