Covid 19 coronavirus: Five questions and answers about New Zealand’s vaccine rollout

With plenty of speculation surrounding New Zealand’s vaccine rollout, the New Zealand Herald hunts answers to the burning questions on how and when you will get vaccinated.

1. When will you be vaccinated?

For most of the general public, when exactly you will be vaccinated is still largely unclear. Currently, border and MIQ workers, high-risk frontline workers and people living in high-risk places are being vaccinated.

From May, people who are at risk of getting very sick from the virus – Kiwis aged 65 or older, disabled people, pregnant women, those with a relevant underlying health condition and prisoners – will be vaccinated before the jabs are delivered to the general public from July, with an aim to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year.

Just how quickly most people will be able to receive the jab after July is up in the air, nor is there any clarity on who in general public will get vaccinated first. Will there be waiting lists? Will it be a first-come-first-served system?

Immunisation Advisory Centre medical adviser Peter McIntyre said the specifics on when the majority of Kiwis would receive the jab were unknown. However, he was relatively confident the end-of-year target would be achieved.

“I think it’s potentially doable but you wouldn’t want it to happen at the cost of other things falling by the wayside.”

However, McIntyre was quick to note the rollout would be an “unprecedented” logistical challenge and hiccups were bound to occur, potentially delaying the current timeline.

2. Where will you be vaccinated?

There have been many proposed options for vaccination centres, including in general practice, pharmacies and mass jab sites.

Another option is in the workplace but businesses are yet to learn how this might take place.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) represents roughly one million employees across 8000 employers north of Taupō. EMA employment relations and safety manager Paul Jarvie said he hadn’t heard of any discussions with business around workplace vaccination programmes.

However, he hoped the Government was aware of how it could operate vaccination programmes in the workplace while being inclusive of variable working hours.

“I think [the Government] has to be really conscious of the modern workplace, it’s not just 8am-5pm,” he said.

“What that does is lessen the barriers for people to be vaccinated.”

He encouraged employers to start the vaccine conversation with employees and warned them to be aware of any discrimination towards those who were reluctant to receive the jab.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking on Thursday last week, Royal New Zealand College of General Practice medical director Bryan Betty said there was uncertainty in the GP community surrounding the vaccine rollout.

However, he was sure the rollout needed to be a collaborative effort between providers, so as not to overwhelm general practice.

“General practice alone can’t do this, mass vaccination centres can’t do this, it needs to be a combination.”

3. How many vaccinations have been administered and how many do we have left?

As of April 6, 90,286 doses had been administered – 71,013 first doses and 19,273 second doses. These numbers were updated weekly at the Ministry of Health’s vaccine data website.

As at April 7, there were 287,220 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine available for distribution. According to a Ministry of Health spokesperson, about 3 per cent of vaccines were being discarded across the country.

However, the spokesperson noted this was lower than predicted thanks to DHBs extracting six doses per vial, one more than the initially forecasted five.

4. How many vaccinators are there?

A Ministry of Health spokesperson confirmed that at April 7, 763 vaccinators had administered a jab and 1843 had completed the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine online training.

This included people from New Zealand’s regular authorised vaccination workforce (about 5400) as well as some of the about 4000 provisionally authorised vaccinations, who have completed IMAC’s provisional vaccinator foundation course, which launched in May last year.

There are a further 1600 pharmacists and about 3800 GPs nationwide who could support the rollout.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said vaccinator numbers had been difficult to access in the past, but hoped there was a sufficient spread around New Zealand.

McIntyre was confident the workforce was had been significantly strengthened since the start of this year.

“I know that things are well underway in training packages and recruitment.”

5. Are the vaccine’s “adverse events” a good sign?

In a report by New Zealand medicines safety authority Medsafe, it revealed there had been 147 reports of “adverse events” following vaccination. The most common included dizziness, headaches, nausea and fainting.

Three of the 147 accounts were deemed serious, however none involved hospitalisation.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in a media update last week that people who had had allergic reactions to previous vaccines or had broader allergies to medicine or food, had higher chances of experiencing adverse effects.

He said he expected people in those categories to have a kōrero with their GP about how they should be vaccinated.

McIntyre said it was a good sign to see such reactions appearing.

“These are all evidence that your immune system’s kicking into gear and that means you’re getting a good response from the vaccine and you’re likely to get good protection as a result.”

However, he did acknowledge the risk of serious health implications due to vaccination. Discussions still persist around the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week it had found a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots.

McIntyre said people in countries with high Covid numbers should still consider taking the vaccine given the comparable health risk of the virus and the apparent rarity of the blood clots.

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