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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the vaccination programme for the wider population is 'on track'

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the vaccination programme for the wider population is 'on track'

The Government is adamant the Covid-19 vaccination plan is "on track" and says supplier Pfizer has scheduled delivery of an estimated 1 million doses of vaccine to New Zealand during July.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday the expected "weekly drops" from Pfizer, ramping up from the middle of July, would enable continuation of the vaccination of 'groups 1,2 and 3' "while giving us the certainty needed to start the general population rollout [group 4] as planned".

The Ministry of Health recently on its website tweaked the timing of the start of general vaccination from during July to the "end of" July, prompting concern over slippage of the vaccination timeframe. 

But Hipkins said the supplies arriving next month would mean the District Health Boards could keep delivering to their plans and start accelerating their way through Group 3 from mid July – which is everyone over the age of 65 and people with disabilities and some underlying health conditions.

"It’s a group of more than 1 million people and will take time to work through. As we start Group 4, we will significantly ramp up our vaccination efforts.”

Hipkins said the consignments due to arrive in July wold double the total number of Pfizer doses that have been received this year to more than 1,900,000 – "enough to fully vaccinate almost 1 million Kiwis".

He said around 20,000 doses a day were currently being administered and the Pfizer deliveries throughout July will enable this to increase significantly.

"At the peak of the programme in August and September we expect to be administering 50,000 doses per day."

To date over a quarter of a million people have been fully vaccinated.

Hipkins said the Government's "strategy" had meant "we’ve largely avoided having to stretch the time between first and second doses as many countries have".

“Work is well advanced to set up more vaccination sites, deliver mass vaccination events, and bring more GPs and pharmacies on-board to help with the rollout.

“While we know the ongoing pandemic can impact vaccine delivery schedules, Pfizer has given us further assurances that the remaining deliveries for 2021 are also on track, just as their deliveries to date have been.

“We have vaccinated more people than we had planned for at this point in time and more than 6,800 vaccinators have completed the necessary training to administer the Pfizer vaccine.

“We have at our disposal one of the best vaccines in the world and starting later next month we will start making it available, for free, to everyone in New Zealand over the age of 16.”

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Just about choked on my coffee when I found out there's no plan to be open before Christmas. Meanwhile in Germany the bars are opening up again for outside customers, some gyms are open with no restrictions, at least where I am. I expect a booming tourist season this summer, and last summer it wasn’t too bad either. Where's the sense of urgency to get NZ open like Europe? I saw Dr Mike Yeadon former Pfizer CSO saying that in his opinion it's irresponsible to vax people under 30 who don't have risk factors because the risks of an inadequately tested vaccine outweigh the benefit for that young healthy cohort who have almost zero risk from covid. He didn’t want his 30 year old daughters to get it. It's kind of nice in Germany you can get vaccinated if you want but there's no pressure.

Um, what do you mean? NZ has mostly been "open" since about July last year, with few to no restrictions on internal activities, barring some short stints in lockdown that mostly affected Auckland but not the rest of the country.

If you mean open to outside tourists, then yes, Germany and other European countries can open up sooner than we can, because they already have, and accept, circulating COVID-19 in their communities.

We don't have, nor accept, circulating COVID-19 in our communities.

Even if COVID-19 is not really a threat to those under 30 (I'm surprised someone who worked at Pfizer would be saying this, but anyway), so far the vaccines, Pfizer in particular, have shown to be effective against variants of COVID-19. Just because the classical one has mostly posed little risk to those under 30, doesn't mean that future variants, which the vaccines are likely to help protect against, will pose equally as little risk.

Also there are many stories of people, even in that age group, getting infected by COVID and having the worst 1-2 weeks of their life, as well as those who end up with long COVID, or even just organ damage that will persist and impact their health for the rest of their lives, to greater or lesser degrees.

At some point NZ has to rip the band aid off and accept the reality that covid is endemic. Sadly some people in New Zealand will die from covid, just as they do from the flu, heart & pulmonary disease etc. It's just a game of protecting the economy, health care, and civil liberties. I hear what you’re saying about lung damage etc, and I’m a fan of letting people judge the risk for themselves, and make their own decisions.

Yes, and that point is after everyone has been offered a vaccine.

Also the health system here in general is underfunded, because people don't want to pay the level of tax required to provide a decent level of service. So this approach is also about ensuring the health system doesn't melt down.

Pat has followed a line of implied covid harm minimisation or denial for a long time now. We are open. Just not the borders.

We are open. Just not the borders. umm okay, that makes about as much sense as a David Lynch movie.

There's a reuter fact checking article on the former vp comments. His claims are false pat.

Oh really? Reuter wow. So some 23 year old journalist with an arts degree is "fact checking" the former chief scientific officer of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. I await that outcome with baited breath. You've highlighted a common theme though. Anyone who's opinion differs from the desired government narrative is viciously discredited. Look what happened to Simon Thornley in New Zealand. Seems to me like we have wartime levels of psyops and propaganda being deployed against the public these days.

Simon Thornley was thoroughly discredited because he disappeared down a conspiracy rabbit hole.

Okay - can you provide some details? you know - seeing as you're besmirching the reputation of a scientist on a public forum.

You've provided a link to the extremely distasteful character assassination article that I was referring to. It's been discussed here. From what I've read and seen of Thornely he gets invited to write articles for highly prestigious journals like this one recently from BMJ. Maybe that BMJ article is the reason he was subjected to a smear campaign?. Anyway, from what I've seen when Thornely discusses numbers he's very careful to anchor everything to peer reviewed articles. So I'm asking you again - What specifically has he said that's verifiably incorrect. Just give me something - anyting so I can go look in up in a scientific journal?

Pat, this is pointless if you continue peddling conspiracies and fake news. Sorry.

That’s a kafkaesque ad hominem response. Just to summarise though, you cannot give me a single thing that Dr Simon Thornley has said that is verifiably incorrect.

I hate to jump on a Scientist purely for putting forward theories that are later proven wrong, because we all make mistakes and Science progresses by proving ourselves wrong. But, since you ask.

"During a question and answer session, Thornley was asked if it meant Covid-19 had circulated undetected in New Zealand: “It’s very hard to believe we haven’t been exposed to the virus in quite a dramatic way”, he responded.

Only a seroprevalence survey – measuring the proportion of people with antibodies for the virus – would give the answer, he added.

Two months later, a seroprevalence survey was released. It determined only around 0.1 per cent of New Zealand had been infected with Covid-19."

Okay thank you – lets discuss that. You know Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College gave predictions of death that went just wrong, they were astronomically wildly crazily wrong, and worst of all New Zealand’s covid response is predicated to a large extent on Ferguson’s wildly wrong SIR modelling. The second reason why your criticism is unfair is that you’re referring to very early days when everything was conjecture. Scientists from Los Alamos thought the R0 was 11.0 from memory, but that consensus has shifted now. Thornley prefaced his statement very carefully. One could argue that seroprevalence underestimates infections because the antibodies don’t last very long, and perhaps Thornely was more correct that we appreciate, but that’s beside the point.

Yes, lots of people made poor predictions early on - remember we thought the case fatality rate was more like 1-2% at that time. Simply giving an example to counter your apparent belief that Thornley never makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them and update your beliefs as necessary.

For example, the blood from that Serosurvey was collected in December and early January, and we know antibodies last at least 8 months in most cases so this would cover the main wave of infection in NZ. You can now update your theory on why seroprevalence was low - Occam's razor may assist.

I guess you're referring to this journal DOI:10.1101/2021.04.12.21255282. The article is more or less cheerleading NZ's elimination strategy. The samples were collected from December 3, 2020, to January 6, 2021. If you check the references pertaining to antibody lifetime only the one from NZ seems relevant. Clin Transl Immunology. 2021;10(3):e1261 and Nature reviews Immunology. 2021 Mar 15;1–12. The first paper actually says the antibodies last from 4, and up to a maximum of 8 months. It's kind of splitting hairs to prove Thornley said something that was incorrect, and I'm not even sure that's he did. Does that mean Thornley deserves to be subject to a smear campaign. Given that he prefaced his prediction with a statement that we need serology studies – which we have now in 2021. You know in the context of Neil Fergusons massively inaccurate predictions, and the uncertainty at the time. Hmm does he deserve that character assassination? you tell me.

No, it doesn't state antibodies last a maximum of 8 months - this is simply the duration of the study. More data over longer time periods will come. The study found ~90% of participants still showing antibodies in the 125-250 day group and there is no suggestion that this goes to zero at month 9. Let's be generous and assume 50% lose their antibodies over 10 months, perhaps we could increase our estimate to 0.2% of NZers contracted covid. The theory that the virus was widely circulating requires some particular mental gymnastics given the evidence now arriving on the scene.

Neil Ferguson has been dragged over the coals both for the initial predictions and his own personal indiscretions during lockdown. I don't support character assassination but I do support fitting theories to evidence and not the other way round.

right you are - I misread that, 1.30 am over here. "I do support fitting theories to evidence and not the other way round" Yes I agree.

This is the paper that refers to 8 months - not the duration of the study. Also - "As such, there is a pressing need to understand antibody persistence and time to seroreversion following SARS-CoV-2 infection. Using three different models, the estimated t1/2 of 5–20 months for NAbs in this study is somewhat longer than 2–4 months calculated in other cohorts,18, 26 though all estimates have wide confidence intervals because of the inherent limitations of modelling responses with marked individual heterogeneity."

Yes, that's the paper. It does not state a maximum of 8 months, but this is the longest time they have been able to collect date for so far (the 125-250 day group). There is no >8 month group showing zero antibodies. Maybe that will come, but it would be very surprising.

Even taking the lowest estimated half life of 5 months, a quarter would retain antibodies after 10 months, bringing the 'corrected' seroprevalence up to 0.4%.

From 2 July 2019 - "The latest figures from the Institute of Environment Science and Research show the number of people in the Auckland District Health Board area going to the doctor with an influenza-like illness was 171 per 100,000 people in the week ending June 23.
That's compared with the historic national average of 46.1 for the same week in previous years."

Has any T cell testing been done in NZ? Antibodies fade over time or aren't even produced if you have a mild case going by this research. May be a tad premature to throw Thornely under a bus.

“...Patients with severe COVID-19 often developed a strong T-cell response and an antibody response; in those with milder symptoms it was not always possible to detect an antibody response, but despite this many still showed a marked T-cell response. ...Moreover, roughly 30 per cent of the blood donors who’d given blood in May 2020 had COVID-19-specific T cells, a figure that’s much higher than previous antibody tests have shown. ...“Our results indicate that public immunity to COVID-19 is probably significantly higher than antibody tests have suggested,” says Professor Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren at the Center for Infectious Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, and co-senior author. “If this is the case, it is of course very good news from a public health perspective.”

T-cell analyses are more complicated to perform than antibody tests and at present are therefore only done in specialised laboratories, such as that at the Center for Infectious Medicine at Karolinska Institutet.”

From the same article, 65% of those cases were confirmed flu. I.e., they were testing and did not find a new disease ~5-10 times more deadly than flu. Quite an oversight, if you're right.

In this particularly bad flu season, it was still national news that two people died. Do you remember the scenes overseas when covid took hold?

For you to be right, it must be that this early circulating covid was significantly less dangerous and mutated (probably in Wuhan?) into something more deadly. If this is the case, it's interesting but doesn't really change the facts on the ground - clearly the world didn't develop herd immunity from the early circulating disease.

Not sure about the T-cell testing - hopefully someone is on the case and we can rule out this theory, or find out something interesting. An important caveat in the journal article your second news story relates to - "In this context, our findings most likely reflect widespread exposure to seasonal coronaviruses, which could shape the subsequent immune response to SARS-CoV-2", i.e. they do not believe their T-cell testing is specific to covid-19.

It is specific to T cells. "Moreover, roughly 30 per cent of the blood donors who’d given blood in May 2020 had COVID-19-specific T cells"
Exposure to earlier coronaviruses and subsequent T cell immunity may explain why 80% of Covid infections are asymptomatic (from the Diamond Princess data).
I would be wary of throwing Thornely under the bus without T cell immunity testing. As far as I know this has not been done in NZ.

I don't really think you can say Covid is 5-10x more deadly than the flu.
"Most of the studies are from locations with overall COVID-19 mortality rates that are higher than the global average. The inferred median infection fatality rate in locations with a COVID-19 mortality rate lower than the global average is low (0.09%). If one could sample equally from all locations globally, the median infection fatality rate might even be substantially lower than the 0.23% observed in my analysis.
... Very low infection fatality rates seem common in Asian countries.8,11,29,48,49,51,59,61,67 A younger population in these countries (excluding Japan), previous immunity from exposure to other coronaviruses, genetic differences, hygiene etiquette, lower infectious load and other unknown factors may explain these low rates. The infection fatality rate is low also in low-income countries in both Asia and Africa,44,49,66,67 perhaps reflecting the young age structure. However, comorbidities, poverty, frailty (e.g. malnutrition) and congested urban living circumstances may have an adverse effect on risk and thus increase infection fatality rate.

Antibody titres may decline with time10,28,32,86,87 and this would give falsely low prevalence estimates."

Yes, that's what the writeup says. The peer reviewed article itself adds the following, which strongly suggests the T-cells in question are not specific to covid-19 and can be generated by exposure to other coronaviruses.

"Of note, we detected cross-reactive T cell responses directed against the spike and/or membrane proteins of SARS-CoV-2 in 28% of unexposed healthy blood donors, consistent with a high degree of pre-existing immunity in the general population...In this context, our findings most likely reflect widespread exposure to seasonal coronaviruses, which could shape the subsequent immune response to SARS-CoV-2. As such, it remains likely that a fraction of the anamnestic SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell response was initially induced by seasonal coronaviruses in seronegative individuals"

See also

You would be taking a leap in believing that this T-cell evidence means covid was around before the world noticed it in Wuhan.

This Nature paper was published a few days after the Whitcombe et al. doi: 10.1002/cti2.1261 NZ antibody dynamics study - (Nature Report) Not everyone develops antibodies! That Nature paper was looking at 347 PCR +ve patients who were sick enough to make it to hospital during the Spanish outbreak and 3.9% of them never even developend any S1-spike IgG antibodies.

All well and good, but to my mind the balance between the economy, health and liberty is distorted. Not as bad as in Victoria Australia where the police harass journalists at night. Still, It's pretty depressing to see non-conforming New Zealand scientists get character assassinated, while their apparatchik counterparts get rewards from here to kingdom come. Can we at least get the country open before we lose another tourist season?

It's equally depressing to see you continue to push your covid denial conspiracies here too pat

fat pat,

I read all the posts and was 'amused' to see you shift your ground as soon as someone produced evidence that Thornley had been shown to be wrong. Your response? "All well and good". In other words, oops, I 've been found out so what else can i come up with. and that is? The completely discredited notion that by prioritising health, we unduly damaged our economy. And your use of the word liberty pretty much marks you out as a conspiracy theorist.

I'm kind of surprised by that linklater. I thought you were a lawyer?

The country as a whole has judged the risk for ourselves, and for the most part decided a completely free life except for closed borders, with no covid circulating, is currently preferable to allowing tourists back in. To some extent, domestic tourism is making up the for foreign tourist deficit.

No doubt we'll reassess once vaccines are rolled out (I've had my two shots), but for now we are looking at the rest of the world and feeling fairly smug.

There's room for disagreement, for sure, but the consensus is pretty clear.

Big announcement! errrh. 500K doses. That will do 10% of the population.
Shudda been a small announcement.

Should be enough to finish vaccinating the vulnerable. It's just the sniffles for the rest of us anyway.

Ask those who have died. Or those with long covid. Or those now with lifetime problems.

My wife and I are Group 4. Second jab is 24 June. I don’t know why we got the invite, but we did and are happy. This country is going to run out of luck at some stage.

There is a very interesting discussion between Drs. Bret Weinstein (PhD) an Dr. Pierre Kory (M.D, FLCCC) called COVID, Ivermectin and the Crime of the Century. There is also a follow up discussion with Bret and Heather, Doing Science in an Emergency. I would suggest that everybody have a listen before posting comments - I know that media has done a successful job of tarnishing ivermectin (one of the topics discussed in these two videos). Note: Ivermectin has been used for 50 years in both humans and animals. It has helped irradiate River Blindness in Africa amongst other diseases.

I see the Indian bar association has served notice on the World Health Organisation for "running a disinformation campaign against Ivermectin". The notice was upheld by the courts. Ouch!