Science and technology minister Megan Woods (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: 5 million Covid vaccines on the way in major new agreement

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: 5 million Covid vaccines on the way in major new agreement, new tourism minister confirms change in industry focus, and an outstanding outline of the current drug law mess.

There is now the possibility that every single New Zealander who wants a Covid vaccine will be able to get one in the next two years. It comes after an in-principle agreement was signed to purchase 5 million doses from Janssen Pharmaceutica, subject to the vaccine successfully completing clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals. Presuming a formal purchase agreement is signed – which a release this morning from Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods made clear is likely – about 2 million doses would be delivered next year, with the remaining 3 million delivered over the course of 2022.

It follows a previous announcement to buy enough vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for 750,000 people. The two products aren’t necessarily the same, and the newly announced one has some significant advantages, said Woods. “A key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it’s likely to be a single-dose vaccine and is compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels, so it may potentially be more efficient to administer.” For more on the difficulty of actually getting the Pfizer product to where it needs to be, read Siouxsie Wiles. Negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies continue, and New Zealand is also likely to attempt to purchase extra doses to provide to Pacific nations.

Even so, there will be some serious questions to ask with the rollout, and who gets vaccinated first. Barbara Allen and Michael Macaulay have looked at some of the ethical dimensions around how we’d prioritise people, and what the consequences of that would be. In the release from Woods, this was addressed with the following paragraphs:

The Ministry of Health is preparing for a range of vaccine scenarios and how best to sequence the delivery of vaccines once supply becomes available. Three broad considerations are being explored:

  • Those at risk of contracting COVID-19
  • Those at risk of spreading COVID-19
  • Those at risk of increased morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.

Ensuring equity of outcomes, including protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff are some of our primary considerations in the availability of vaccines.

But there’s also a fairly basic but crucial question that remains unanswered – as Justin Giovannetti reports, there’s not yet any clarity on whether the vaccine will be free. That ambiguity is at odds with a number of other governments around the world, who have firmly declared that it will be free.

One question that has been firmly answered – taking the vaccine will not be compulsory. That was thoroughly thrashed out during the election campaign at public meetings that included candidates from Advance NZ, and representatives from every party currently in parliament assured the public that taking the vaccine would remain voluntary. Just so you know if you see that meme pop up again on social media.


New tourism minister Stuart Nash has confirmed a sharp change in direction for the industry, aiming squarely at attracting high net worth individuals. He made the pitch in a Radio NZ interview, which included a pledge to ban tourists from hiring vans that aren’t self contained – a slightly bizarre suggestion, but perhaps better expressed as a ban on freedom camping. In response, I spoke to some people with a bit more sympathy for the humble backpacker, to get a sense of whether they really are low-value to the industry and the wider country.


Here’s probably the best piece I’ve read this year on reforming the current legal status of cannabis, in light of the failed referendum. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng has done some deep exploration for what the future looks like, particularly around those who take cannabis as a medicine, but are on the fringes of being able to access legal options. For example, it’s hard to see the Green Fairies (who provide affordable cannabis to patients in need) as anything other than heroes, but under the law they are criminals. Police are also in doubt about how to enforce a law that a tiny fraction under half the population see as illegitimate. Clearly the legal regime that was defeated in the referendum can’t come in, but something has to be done to address these glaring contradictions.


The mystery over NZ meat with Covid on it in China has deepened, reports Stuff. China has confirmed that packaging containing NZ meat has tested positive for the virus, however the government is insisting that there’s no evidence that those virus traces actually came from New Zealand. The meat has been stored in a facility with products from other countries.


For many years, a story about Australian soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan has been bubbling away. An inquiry is coming to a head at the moment, and writing on The Spinoff, Nicky Hager says it has involved the defence hierarchy being much more open to accountability than what ours is in New Zealand. The allegations being raised in Australia are serious and sickening, and include suggestions that the SAS repeatedly killed civilians with impunity.


Some feedback on yesterday’s Bulletin about the housing crisis. John Polkinghorne wrote in to make these very fair points, in response to my suggestion that the core of the issue was that prices had inflated beyond anything that people could make through working.

You’re right that ‘housing crisis’ means different things to different people. And some people consider high (purchase) prices to be a crisis. It’s certainly an issue, but I don’t think it’s the core of the crisis… I’m much more concerned about the other things covered in your bulletin, or in previous Spinoff articles. Those relate to:

1) a shortage of actual physical homes, in the places people want to live;

2) as a result of that, there’s been large (rent) price increases, which disproportionately affects people at the lower end of the income scale;

3) also as a result, many people and groups are marginalised and find it hard to find a home to live in in the first place (single mums, non-professionals etc as per some excellent Spinoff articles);

4) that our homes are often poor quality, leading to various health issues;

5) that overcrowding levels are also relatively high, due to the price issues. That causes health issues too.

High house prices might cause the Reserve Bank to worry over macro financial/ economic issues (e.g. what happens if prices crash), but with low interest rates the only people who are hard hit are those who want and struggle to make the shift from renting to buying. Affordability for people who already own is fine, as lower mortgage costs mean they’re usually spending less than 30% of their income on housing costs (which is the preferred measurement by academic economists, rather than the bank commentators that we hear much more from).


From our partners: In a time of changing tastes, diets, supply chains and ways of working, Goodtime Pies has had to constantly adapt. I have a look at the evolution of the humble petrol station pie, and particularly the development of vegan options. Because I’m a nerd on these matters, I also took the opportunity to ask some questions around how Goodtime have dealt with meat supply chain disruptions.


More congratulations after a hugely successful week for our people: The team behind webseries Scratched – Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends picked up a TV award last night, for Best Sports Production. You can go back and watch every episode of this timeless series here. As for the rest of the industry, this Stuff story has a list of all the winners, and it goes to show the immense talent we’re lucky to have in this country – a particular congratulations for the team at Stuff Circuit on their win in the Current Affairs category.


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

Right now on The Spinoff: Amal Samaha writes about New Zealand’s purchase of phosphate from Western Sahara, which fuels a newly declared war. Justin Latif speaks to friends and family in the States about whether things really are descending into chaos. Steven Moe writes about the groundbreaking environmental TV show Captain Planet (he’s a hero) three decades on. Trevor McKewen addresses the recent brouhaha over masculinity in sports. Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere explains what a recent ruling on sow crates means for all animals. Sam Brooks reviews popcorn-as-prestige TV show The Queen’s Gambit – my partner and I have thoroughly enjoyed bingeing through this recently. And there’s a brand new episode of On The Rag, speaking to people in the transgender community about how their relationship with their bodies has changed.


For a feature today, the words of CNN journalists who put in one of the most mind-melting performances in TV news history. Esquire has put together an oral history of the channel’s election night coverage, and it goes to some truly bizarre places. Take, for example, this excerpt from political commentator Van Jones:

Jones: After Tuesday night, then you just get dropped into this endless, timeless hell loop of being on air, trying to keep up what’s going on, watching this epic performance of John King at the wall. Sometimes a wedge of pizza appears in front of your face or a Diet Coke. And then they say, “You got to take that away because you’re going to be on air.” And then you look up, but now it’s another meal and four hours have gone by. You’re trapped in this hell of unknowing. And over time my spirits began to rise as our numbers got better in other places, especially places like Georgia, and the slow kind of crawls up in Pennsylvania.


In sport, Fijian rugby is in crisis after dozens of positive Covid-19 tests in the camp, reports Stuff. A touring squad has had games against France and Italy called off, and a future game against Scotland is also in doubt. The fixtures were part of the Autumn Nations Cup, a tournament aimed at getting more international footy going in a heavily disrupted year. In a slightly rough outcome, the positive tests have meant Fiji has been forced to forfeit games as losses, despite having travelled to Covid hotspots just to play.


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