Richard Prebble: What Clarke Gayford got right over Covid test call

OPINION:

On Monday I tried to book my 6-year-old grandson his vaccination. The site rejected my booking without his health number. The bureaucrats promised when the individual health number was introduced that it was solely for record keeping. No one would ever be asked for their number to get treatment.

By the time I had obtained his health ID from the local GP clinic all the bookings from the local vaccination centres were gone. After some time searching we found a pharmacy with a booking: March 14, during school hours, was the earliest booking we could get for his second jab.

The Ministry of Health site advice is that my grandson will only be “fully protected” seven to 10 days after the second jab.

Covid in children is usually mild. Children can still spread the virus. It seems likely pupils will be back at school partially vaccinated when Omicron hits. In America, Omicron has seen a rapid increase in hospitalisation of children. It is a matter for concern not panic.

If we were at the front of the vaccine queue, as promised, our school children would already be vaccinated.

I recall in 1956 my primary school filing through the school hall by class in alphabetical order to get our polio vaccine. It was no fuss, efficient. Why has government rejected using schools to vaccinate our children?

To get to the front of the queue all we needed was for ministers to be willing to make a decision with partial knowledge.

Pfizer announced it was undertaking trials of its children’s vaccine in March. If the government had booked and paid in March then we would be at the front of the queue.

If the trial had failed then ministers would have had to take responsibility for wasting around $20 million. Nothing compared to the cost of vaccination delay.

No civil servant will ever risk making a $20m mistake. It is why we have ministers, to make decisions and take responsibility.

It is a shame Clarke Gayford is not a minister. He is willing to make decisions on partial information.

He was rung by some musicians who might be close Covid contacts. They were due to perform the next day. The PCR test result takes 48hours. They needed a rapid test.

The pharmacy declined the rapid test citing Ministry of Health rules. One of the musicians rang the PM’s fiance.

Gayford has been universally criticised for having taken the call and for giving his advice. I do not agree. It will be a shame when MPs’ spouses feel they must hang up on callers.

Gayford told the musician that the rules for rapid tests had changed and this sounded like a good case for a rapid test.

Gayford was almost right — some rules had changed. The department has lifted its absurd ban on rapid tests. It was logical for Gayford to assume that meant anyone who had an urgent need to know their Covid status could get one. It is crazy that only the unvaccinated are entitled to get a rapid test.

Gayford’s advice was honest, commonsense and should have been correct.

MPs’ partners should be thanked that they are willing to answer the phone.

Constituents used to ring my home and say to my wife, “Can I speak to your husband about what he just said in parliament?” When she replied, “He is not here. Parliament is in Wellington”, they would say, “Well he should be here” and proceed to tell her the faults in my speech.

Voters assume the partner also works for them.

It is amazing the range of issues people called my wife about, from financial to family matters. Like the musicians they often did not know who to call. Their problems arose outside civil service hours.

Like Gayford, she always tried to help. Her advice was not always right but it was always honest.

Constituents would stop me in the street to tell me how much they appreciated her assistance.

I do not know Gayford. He has put his career on hold to assist his fiancee. Gayford has to read columnists like me criticising his partner and he is expected to be silent. Gayford has carried out his role with distinction. The nation should be grateful.

If his advice to the musicians is typical, I hope Gayford ignores the critics. We need more commonsense from Mr Gayford.

Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.

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