COVID-19 vaccine update from the New Zealand Government
The Government has formally approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as safe for use in New Zealand.
On 9 February Cabinet endorsed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with the following recommendations:
- It is suitable for use in New Zealand for those 16 years-old and over. This recommendation is based on, so far, no clinical trials on those under 16, and may be reconsidered when more data is available
- Information will be provided, particularly around expected common side effects such as fever, muscle pain, and fatigue
- A 30-minute observation period is required after the vaccine has been administered
- Patients receiving these specific therapies - Keytruda, Opdivo, Yervoy, Tecentriq - should not receive the vaccine
- Pregnant women are advised to discuss the risks and benefits of receiving the vaccine with their doctor
- The vaccine is suitable for use in lactating women.
This decision is a further step following Medsafe’s provisional approval to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective for New Zealanders.
The vaccine has also been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority for use here.
All these steps can further assure the New Zealand public that this vaccine is safe to use.
Border workers first in line for vaccine
Border and MIQ workers will be the first to be vaccinated when the first batch of the vaccine arrives in New Zealand. These workers are sometimes referred to as ‘Tier 1’.
Border workers include MIQ cleaners, nurses who undertake health checks in MIQ, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers, amongst others. The people they live with will also be first in line to be vaccinated.
The Government will continue to receive advice from officials on the other vaccines in its portfolio - AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novavax.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout planning
The Government is making good progress in setting up for the coming immunisation programme.
Final checks on seven ultra-low temperature freezers are due to be completed in Auckland at the end of this week. The remaining two freezers, which have been moved to Christchurch to support the rollout in the South Island, will be ready two weeks after that.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored between -80°C and -60°C.
The Government has also purchased special containers that will enable the vaccine doses to be transported around New Zealand at ultra-low or cold chain temperatures.
An extra 2,000 to 3,000 vaccinators will need to be trained and available throughout New Zealand.
Work is underway to develop a comprehensive new data system, the National Immunisation Solution (NIS). It’s already been built and can be used now. Vaccinators will soon begin training in its use.
The NIS will enable any health worker to record vaccinations anywhere, any time, will be able to prove vaccination for COVID-19, and confirm a person's vaccination history.
New Zealand’s international vaccine role
New Zealand continues to play a role internationally, specifically with the Pacific countries in the Polynesian Health Corridors programme.
These countries, which include the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, will be offered access to the New Zealand vaccine portfolio.
New Zealand is also working closely with Australia and other partners to ensure countries in the wider Pacific have support to run successful immunisation campaigns.
Vaccine information campaign
New Zealand’s COVID-19 vaccine information campaign starts in the week starting 15 February.
Having reached the crucial stage of approval for the first vaccine, the Government is starting a conversation with New Zealanders about how it plans to proceed - recognising the natural questions some people will have.
The Government’s vaccine information communications will work to ensure all New Zealanders get the information and assurance they and their whānau need to prepare for getting a vaccine.
We have seen from other programmes that the ability to access sound, reliable information is key to ensuring strong vaccination uptake.
It’s more important than ever that New Zealanders can access reliable and trusted information around the safety and effectiveness of our vaccines.
Making sure this information is readily available will be a priority for the Government as the vaccination campaign rolls out.
Beware of vaccine scams and misinformation
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout creates opportunities for online scammers and peddlers of misinformation to take advantage and disrupt the vaccine process.
There are international and local examples of scammers being opportunistic and looking to trick people into divulging financial and personal details.
The Government cyber security agency CERT NZ is working closely with other government agencies to try to stop these scams in their tracks.
Key things everyone should know are:
- The vaccine is free and at no point will you ever be asked to pay for securing your place in the “queue”
- Any communications about the vaccine will come from the Ministry of Health or other trusted sources
- If you receive any emails out of the blue asking for financial and personal details it is likely to be a scam
- The best way you can help stop these scams affecting New Zealanders is to report them to CERT NZ, via its website.
This week, Facebook updated its policies in order to keep people informed and limit misinformation in relation to COVID-19 and vaccinations.
Google will be running a worldwide campaign to promote authoritative information about COVID-19 vaccines. Information about the New Zealand programme will be included.
Where to find trustworthy information about vaccines:
The Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC)
IMAC is a nationwide organisation based at the School of Population Health at The University of Auckland. It provides independent, factual information based on international and New Zealand scientific research about vaccine-preventable diseases the benefits and risks of immunisation.
Ministry of Health
The Ministry of Health leads New Zealand’s health and disability system, and has overall responsibility for the management and development of that system.
World Health Organization (WHO)
WHO is an agency of the United Nations, and is responsible for international public health.