Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

Preparing for Omicron?

In a memorable line a few months ago, ACT's leader, David Seymour said he thought Jacinda Ardern belonged in the communications section of the government, certainly not the delivery section. Watching her efforts over booster shots in recent weeks, I think she fails in both sections. While claiming to be in favour of promoting vaccination as fast as possible, her efforts to get people a third shot have been lamentable.

With the arrival of the Omicron strain, scientists soon worked out that two doses of Pfizer weren't enough to keep it at bay. Third and even fourth doses began to be delivered around the world. Our leaders, you'll remember, dragged their heels in April, May and June last year getting enough vaccine to step up the pace against Delta, caused an unnecessarily lengthy lock down. This time they decided that booster shots were advisable. But nothing happened. Then we were told that when one's second shot was six months old, one could get a third. The wait time was reduced to five and a half months, and then to five. Before long, it was reduced to four months. But where did people get the third shot? GPs were as confused as officialdom, and wouldn't deliver. Nor would chemists. Friends of mine who were more than five months couldn't find someone to administer the jab even after RNZ News was reporting that four months was deemed to be long enough. Then came a news item that the Auckland DHB had authorized boosters for those whose second shot was more than four months past. Still no sign of action. With the holiday period coming up, there were still at least six working days before New Year when boosters could be given. Numbers attending vaccination centres were falling off. There was plenty of capacity to deliver the shots. But inquiries to the Healthline kept saying no booster till after 5 January 2022. Our friends were given a booked date for the end of January. Why? With so many people going away on holiday the last week before Christmas seemed an excellent time to get oldies given their boosters.

At last, no matter the official line, commonsense began to prevail. In Auckland, first a few chemists, and then the big Unichem chain sprang into action. Over the last few days many of the most vulnerable people have been able to get their third jabs. No thanks, it seems, to the Beehive, to Chris Hipkins whose communications skills are often more reliable than Jacinda's, nor to the Ministry of Health's woeful delivery capability. Just plain common sense and a bit of initiative by chemists.

We read that since Labour came to office in 2017 there are now 14,000 more civil servants on the pay roll and that money splashed around on consultants has hit record levels; yet somehow all it did was slow delivery times. Come to think of it, those with good memories will recall that that has always been the case. The more civil servants, the slower the government's activities as staff fall over each other and are beyond the senior administrative capabilities of their departments and the ministers to whom they are accountable.

Thank heavens we have seen the last of 2021. But don't get your hopes too high for 2022.