New Zealand lays out vaccine plan after grumbling over delay

New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern participates in a debate in Auckland
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in a televised debate with National leader Judith Collins at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS

WELLINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) - New Zealand will take up to the end of the year to inoculate all those eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday, as she announced details of a vaccine campaign.

The Pacific island nation shut its borders and used tough lockdown measures to become one of the few countries to have virtually eliminated COVID-19, but the government is facing criticism for a slow rollout of vaccines.

About 560,000 people in the country of 5 million have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine while about 325,000 have been given a second dose.

"Based on the delivery and supply of vacancies we are working towards taking to the end of the year for vaccinating all those who are eligible," Ardern told a news conference, adding that the drive was going faster than expected.

Announcing details of the plan, she said vaccines would be allocated according to age with people over 60 offered one from July 28 and those over 55 from Aug. 11.

Those over the age of 45 would get vaccine invitations from mid to late August while those over 35 from mid to late September, and everyone else would be eligible from October, she said.

Ardern said the country would only get the bulk of its vaccine supply in October.

Having a large population vaccinated gives greater options on managing borders, she said, but some caution would still be needed at borders due to COVID-19 variants.

Experts are being consulted on how and when the border will open and modelling is being worked on, she said.

"Everyone is writing the rule book as we go. Difference we have is we have a different rule book to write," said Ardern.

"Once you get rid of an elimination strategy it's very hard to come back to it. So for New Zealand it's about how do we preserve our position whilst having a little more freedom at the border."

Reporting by Praveen Menon Editing by Robert Birsel

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