Missed opportunity for Govt to increase vaccine uptake

The Government’s admission it isn’t using an obvious lever to increase uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine demonstrates its failure to recognise the need to ramp up our vaccine rollout, National’s Social Development and Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Social Development Minister Sepuloni admitted at Select Committee today that Ministry of Social Development (MSD) frontline staff have no brief to help communicate information about the Covid-19 vaccine despite the fact they have regular contact with hundreds of thousands New Zealanders.

“MSD has direct contact and relationships with many New Zealanders who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 including Māori, Pasifika, seniors and those with underlying health conditions and disabilities.

“That means they are well placed to provide information to people about the vaccine and assist them with tasks such as vaccination bookings.

“A golden opportunity to utilise one of New Zealand’s largest government departments in the vaccination roll out has been squandered.

“We’ve known for more than a year we would be rolling out a mass vaccination programme and that uptake in our vulnerable communities would be critical. So the fact it simply never occurred to anyone in the Government to make use of the considerable resources and community connections MSD has is baffling.

“The Government should enlist MSD to help maximise vaccine uptake. The one in 12 New Zealanders who are dependent on the Government for income should not be placed under further stress through being unvaccinated.

“Not everyone, for example, has access to the internet and phones. Even if MSD provided basic support to help people in these circumstances book their vaccine test, provide locations of the nearest testing centres and general vaccination information, that would be a good start.

“We often hear nice words from Ministers about ‘all of government’ initiatives and collaboration between different departments. Ms Sepuloni’s glib response that uptake of the vaccine is not ‘front of mind’ demonstrates the hollowness of these words.

“If ever there was an initiative that required co-operation between government departments, the roll out of a vaccination to protect against a global pandemic would be it.

“The Government should act with urgency to enlist the government department that interacts with over 350,000 New Zealanders to assist with our vaccination efforts.”