Covid 19 coronavirus: Big employers on board with Government’s vaccine roll-out plans

Big business has begun talks with the Ministry of Health to help out with the Government’s Covid-19 vaccination roll-out programme.

Some of the country’s largest employers are getting behind the planned vaccination drive when it is rolled out more widely to the community later in the year.

Businesses have confirmed to the Herald that official talks about logistics and how their premises and workforces can be used to help with administering the vaccine had begun.

Dairy giant Fonterra, The Warehouse Group, SkyCity and supermarket operator Foodstuffs are among the firms on board to support the vaccination drive.

New Zealand began rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine on the weekend, with vaccinators among the first to be immunised. MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) staff, their families and essential workers are next in line for the jab.

Representatives of retail group The Warehouse, which employs more than 11,000 staff and operates more than 250 retail outlets nationwide, last week met with Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to discuss how it can be of help as the Government prepares to roll out the vaccine to more community groups.

Nick Grayston, chief executive of The Warehouse Group, told the Herald the retailer had so far been able to supply portable freezers for the storage of vaccines to some district health boards.

“We have been actively engaged with the Government’s Covid response team around what we as a group of brands can do to support the vaccination effort. Last week I attended a briefing relating to vaccinations from the Prime Minister, several ministers and the director general of health, along with scientific advisers,” Grayston said.

“At this stage we haven’t had any direct requests for support, however we are keen to do whatever we can to help should they come through.

“One such area of support could be to ensure locations where we have a significant number of team members located, such as our distribution centres and store support offices, are vaccinated as single sites.

“In the meantime we have been able to support through the supply of portable freezers to some DHBs. The small freezers are designed for use at vaccination sites to help bring the vaccination up to temperature ahead of its administration.”

Hospitality and entertainment group SkyCity said its Auckland site was one of many organisations that had been “approached as a potential site for the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out programme”.

A spokeswoman for the company said SkyCity was reviewing its office spaces that could be used to administer the vaccines among the buildings it owns.

Foodstuffs, the owner of supermarket and retail chains Pak’nSave, New World, Liquorland and Gilmours, among other retailers, confirmed it was having “conversations with government officials” and was happy to assist in supporting the vaccine rollout.

Miles Hurrell, chief executive of Fonterra, said the dairy giant was giving the Government advice for logistics and supply-chain management of the vaccines.

“The nationwide roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is a huge undertaking for the Government and we’re happy to assist where we can to ensure the wellbeing of New Zealand communities,” he said.

“We have great experts in logistics and supply-chain management at Fonterra. We’re helping out the Government with advice in this space, including identifying other companies or organisations who could do the same, as the Government builds its plan to ensure all New Zealanders can get vaccinated safely.”

Hurrell said Fonterra was “more than happy to do its bit” to support the vaccination programme.

Fonterra, like the other companies the Herald contacted about their participation in the vaccine drive, however, either did not respond or had no comment to make when asked about their willingness to foot the costs or part of the costs associated with helping with rolling out the vaccine.

Countdown, McDonald’s and Mainfreight are among other large firms that have put their hand up to help out with the vaccination programme.

A spokesperson for Ministry of Health said service planning for the roll-out of the vaccine was under way and the Government was looking at learnings from overseas to make decisions on how it would proceed to administer the vaccine at mass scale.

It said no decisions to date had been made on whether it would work with New Zealand’s largest employers for the rollout of jabs to the wider population.

“DHBs are responsible for delivery of the programme in their districts and it is possible that some may decide to work with large companies in the future.

“Service planning is still under way and part of that will include learnings from overseas experiences,” the spokesperson said.

It did, however, acknowledge that Fonterra had been involved in its “simulation events” sharing advice on logistics.

The private sector has played a vital role in helping overseas Governments to administer the coronavirus vaccine at mass scale.

A similar approach has been taken by large employers and retail companies in the likes of Britain, which has proven to speed up the process among scheduled age groups drastically.

Tali Williams, First Union secretary for retail, finance and commerce, said the union supported large employers’ moves to help with the vaccine roll-out, but said it was vital that unions be included in co-ordination plans among organisations.

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