A senior citizen getting the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Singapore (Photo: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Going big on the Pfizer vaccine

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government goes big on the Pfizer vaccine, tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic Tiwai waste revealed, and National party election review to be delivered.

The government has bought enough Pfizer vaccines to cover the entire country, in a significant update to the vaccination programme. As our live updates reports, the load will arrive in the second half of the year, well after other countries have received their doses. Other purchase orders are in place, for brands that don’t have the same cold-storage logistical challenges as Pfizer. But overall, the one the government has gone for looks like the best on the market. “The decision to make Pfizer New Zealand’s primary vaccine provider was based on the fact the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic infection,” said PM Ardern. The full schedule of who gets it when will be laid out later this week.

So what will change with the vaccine? There are two pieces I think that are worth noting. The first is by Mirjam Guesgen on The Spinoff, and discusses why an air crew member still tested positive after getting the jab. They’d only had their first of two doses, which reduces efficacy, and vaccination in this case doesn’t completely block any and all chances of catching Covid-19 – rather it makes people asymptomatic, and reduces transmission.

And with that, we eventually end up with herd immunity. That’s a term that has been mangled by bad science over the last year, and taken to mean what happens when everyone has been infected (wrong and deadly!) but it is actually desirable and possible to achieve with vaccines. As Politik reports, when this happens the plan is to treat Covid-19 much more like the flu, with seasonal vaccinations to protect against emerging strains, but no lockdowns or travel bans to prevent it spreading.  Speaking on Morning Report just before, Ardern signalled the end of the year as when this would be achieved.


Another 75,000 tonnes of toxic waste around Tiwai Point has been revealed, and the company doesn’t know what it’s going to do with it yet, reports Phil Pennington for Radio NZ. Exporting the waste is becoming more difficult for Rio Tinto, who have responsibilities to remediate their mess, and efforts to process the waste onshore haven’t come to much. While the company says they are confident it is stored safely and securely, documents show there have been several scares when the storage building was compromised in some way.


The National party election review has been delivered to the party board, and will be discussed by MPs today, reports Stuff. MPs won’t necessarily be able to read the final version in full though, nor will party members or the public. I’m stealing this joke (paywalled) but I look forward to reading whatever gets leaked to Newshub’s Tova O’Brien.


We’ve been doing our utmost to bring you all the coverage you need of the Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns. And we can’t do it without the generous support of our members. If you want to help out our news team with this and other big stories, please sign up here.


We’re coming up on an array of one-year-since anniversaries, with March last year being the month that changed everything. To mark that, we’ve published a reflection by Siouxsie Wiles and illustrated by Toby Morris, whose work to explain Covid-19 went around the world many times over. Wiles freely admits she didn’t get everything right in every situation (who did though, during an unprecedented global emergency) but I think what really jumps out at me is how the pair’s work has always been underpinned by compassion for people. We’re lucky to have both of them.


Plastic clips from freezing works are winding up in the bellies of ocean fish, reports Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley. They’re also being spotted at beaches all over the country, at alarming rates. The clips are used as part of the slaughter process to prevent meat getting contaminated. Perhaps a more important aspect of the story though is the buck-passing going on between industry, local councils and government departments, over the rather pertinent matter of how to prevent it happening in the first place.


A pair of stories from the world of fruit: Morgane Solignac reports for Stuff that because of weather patterns stretching over two seasons, the grape harvest in Marlborough will be well down on previous years. Some vineyards have lost basically their whole crop to frosts. In contrast, the kiwifruit industry is looking at a record harvest, reports Richard Rennie for Farmers Weekly, with the Sungold variety now pulling bigger volumes than the traditional green.


A bit of media news: PM Jacinda Ardern has pulled out of her weekly interview with the Mike Hosking Breakfast on Newstalk ZB, reports Justin Giovannetti. She will still be available to speak to the show when issues come up, but it’s a bit of a watershed moment for the government’s relationship with the news media. There is understood to be a wider rejigging of media commitments going on, and it’s looking like it’ll lean more towards music radio and (I mean no disrespect to the outlets here) softer interviews.

I listen to a lot of news interviews, so if I may give my two cents here: I believe the PM and her advisors are in the wrong, in a way that makes them look unwilling to be scrutinised. Readers of this probably won’t have a lot of time for Hosking and his political views, so take it from me – he’s a tough but fair interviewer, who demands information rather than spin from political guests. That was underlined just last week, when he praised minister Ayesha Verrall for how she handled some tough questions about the outbreak. Doing these interviews is part and parcel of being a senior politician, so hopefully the PM will continue to appear regularly.


Tell your friends, we’ve got a good job going. The Spinoff is seeking a new social media manager, to manage platforms for both us and Daylight Creative, our newly established content studio, which is itself a spinoff of The Spinoff. Applications close this week, so get in quick.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Harry and Meghan meet an actual kiwi in 2018. (Photo by Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Right now on The Spinoff: Terry Bellamak explains why safe areas at abortion clinics are so crucial for vulnerable patients. We’ve published an anonymous extract from the remarkable book Her Say: Survivors of Domestic Abuse Tell their Own Stories, by Jackie Clark and The Aunties. Vanisha Narsey writes about starting a business after being one of the thousands of women laid off during the pandemic. Charlotte Muru-Lanning reviews the new film adaptation of Patricia Grace’s Cousins. Linda Burgess reviews the new TV documentary about the Mervyn Thompson affair.

And look, you probably want to know about the big Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah – it’s fine, don’t feel bad about it. So, Sam Brooks has picked out the biggest moments (includes spoilers obviously) and bombshells. And Toby Manhire has put out the call – it’s not too late for the formerly royal couple to fulfill their dream of coming and living in New Zealand.


For a feature today, a profile of a weird dude who livens up life in Westport. The ODT has profiled Drak, who has basically turned himself into a vampire. Why? Because that’s what he feels he is, and good on him. Here’s an excerpt:

It was not until Drak turned 31 that he had silicone implants inserted in his head for horns. He already had numerous tattoos and body piercings. They were implanted by an American surgeon who specialised in more unusual surgeries and who travelled the world doing them. Drak’s was performed in New Zealand.

“It cost $US500. When I went to the bank to get the money exchanged, it cost $NZ666. I thought that was amazing.”

Drak said he still attracted some stares, although he said people around Westport seemed to have grown familiar with his looks. “It just seems to be people from out of town who stare now.”


Israel Adesanya’s remarkable unbeaten record in the UFC has come to an end, after a loss to light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. Specialist MMA site Sherdog reports that going forward, he will focus on the lighter middleweight division which he remains the champion of. Moving up a division was always going to be a risk, and in the end it was the superior size and weight of Blachowicz that proved decisive.


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