28 February 2024

Dwindling stocks may slow down Pfizer vaccine roll out

By: Gurbir Singh

With current highly-contagious Delta variant yet to plateau and the unprecedented surge in demand for vaccination bookings continues, there is the real fear that stocks of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in New Zealand will run out.

The pressure on stock is likely to increase substantially from next week when the eligibility to get vaccination is lowered from current 30+.

Already, strategies are being planned, including to slow down roll out of vaccination numbers. This morning, Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall confirmed the possibility that within a couple of weeks the average roll out may be reduced from current daily dose of 70- 75,000 to 50-50,000.

Stock of vaccine available for distribution. It doesn’t include stock in transit or available at sites (as at 26 Aug, 2021)Source: Min of Health

Though the stocks may not completely run out, but the government is expected to come out with a plan sometimes this week to enable vaccination programme to keep running next year as well.

“We’ve modelled around very high rates (of vaccinations) but what we see at the moment is extraordinary so we are working hard on a strategy at the moment to accommodate that growth,” Prime Minister Ardern said in one of her media briefings recently.

Yesterday, when asked about the situation of supply and demand of vaccine, the Prime Minister said, “We’ve just received another 320,000 doses from Pfizer, so we’ve just had that delivery come in. We, of course, do continue to have doses on hand, and what our team are working on at the moment are some different scenarios based on the strategy working around to ensure that we can continue to meet demand.

 “…I would say it’s not a matter of running out, it’s a matter of whether or not we are in a position where we need to have a little less demand than what we’re seeing at the moment. There are ways that we can manage that, but we’re not at that point yet.”

Cumulative vaccinations (as on 26 Aug 2021) Production plan figures are volumes agreed with DHBs/national providers (source: Min of Health)

As on date, 24.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, which is very low as compared to many other nations.

While the Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines were approved for provisional use by Medsafe last month, the Cabinet is yet to take a decision as to its use.

While approving Pfizer in Feb 2021, the Government had guaranteed that every New Zealander will have access to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

But in spite of PM’s earlier assurance in March 2021 that “…all New Zealanders will have the chance to access the same (Pfizer) vaccine,” it appears doubtful if there will be enough Pfizer doses to keep up with demand.

That is one reason that an increase in period between two doses is also being encouraged, and alternatives already being considered.

Some countries are already planning to administer a booster dose, and if that need is felt here at a later date, the current erratic  supply position may hamper that as well.

As all country south of Auckland goes into alert level 3 from midnight of Tuesday, many pessimists are keeping fingers crossed and hoping there is no surge of community cases meanwhile.

Cases or no cases, the current drive to get vaccinated should not slow down –it’s our only chance of protection.

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