New Zealand’s top doctor was given VIP treatment at the Black Caps win over Australia on Sunday, where he was personally lobbied by the sport’s top brass for access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
As the New Zealand government puts the final touches on its vaccination rollout plan, Ashley Bloomfield, the Director General of Health, has enjoyed rare privileges by New Zealand Cricket (NZC).
NZC is eager to obtain vaccines – and soon – so players can fulfil overseas obligations in coming months, including the Indian Premier League and World Test Championship final.
As the Kiwis routed Australia by seven wickets, Dr Bloomfield met executives including CEO David White at Wellington’s Sky Stadium and mingled with players after their historic win.
The Ministry of Health is not hiding the lobbying effort, and even confirmed Dr Bloomfield gave a personal pledge the matter would be considered by government.
“Dr Bloomfield attended the Black Caps game on Sunday 7 March in a private capacity and talked to NZ Cricket CEO David White while there. No formal discussions were held,” a spokesman told AAP.
“Dr Bloomfield undertook to take the matter of players potentially being vaccinated prior to travel for consideration as part of planning for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“No other commitments or decisions were made.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Sport Minister Grant Robertson also attended the match.
Like many public health officials, Dr Bloomfield became a much-loved figure during the pandemic for his plain spoken advice during a time of anxiety and adversity.
He appeared alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at daily 1pm press briefings during lockdown, where he gave the latest infection numbers and health guidance.
In response, Kiwis wrote tribute songs to the 54-year-old, put his image on shop windows and tea towels, wrote fan fiction and baked cakes with icing baring his resemblance.
It’s unclear whether his willingness to go into bat for cricketers will wash as well with the public, given public sentiment appears to favour mass vaccination of those at risk first.
The government is currently vaccinating border workers, their families and health workers.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has foreshadowed giving details of the vaccine rollout plan on Wednesday.
On Monday, Ms Ardern announced purchase orders for enough Pfizer vaccine to inoculate every New Zealander against the virus.
On Monday, AAP revealed NZC had enjoyed, in its view, “very positive discussions” with the government over securing COVID-19 vaccine doses for the Black Caps.
Mr White said “the government has got a scheme for workers who travel overseas”.
Ms Ardern did not confirm or deny the scheme existed, but did say the government was considering the plight of athletes who needed to compete overseas.
“In some cases it might be a requirement that they be vaccinated beforehand,” she said.
“We haven’t made decisions on how that will be dealt with. We know it’s an issue.”
Any decision on cricketers receiving advance vaccine will need to be made within days.
The Pfizer treatment requires 21 days between the two doses, and many Kiwi stars are due in India at the start of April for the Indian Premier League.
They won’t return home before playing two Tests in England and the World Test Championship final in June.