We want to provide you with a bit of information about one of the biggest and most important activities this year - the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
It’s an important step you can take to fight COVID-19 and protect yourself, your kaumaatua and whaanau, and community from the effects of the virus.
The Government’s plan is to ensure that groups most likely to come into contact with COVID, and those who are the most vulnerable are offered the vaccine first.
What are the Groups?
Includes people working in border roles - at the airport, port and managed quarantine hotels - and their families.
This vaccination process is almost finished.
Includes our frontline healthcare workforce such as doctors, nurses, hospital orderlies etc.
This vaccination process is underway and is scheduled to be finished by the end of April.
Group Two also includes our vulnerable people, prioritised kuia and kaumaatua, and the rest of the community, as well as people living in our Counties Manukau community who are at higher risk such as those over the age of 65 or have an underlying health issue.
This vaccination process is underway.
Includes people living in the rest of New Zealand who are at higher risk such as those over the age of 65 or have an underlying health issue.
This vaccination process is scheduled to start in May.
Includes everyone else over the age of 16.
This vaccination process is scheduled to start mid-year.
If you want to know more about the vaccination process and when you can get a vaccine click here.
Important things to know about the vaccine
- There is enough for everyone.
- It’s free.
- It DOES NOT include any 'live' COVID virus.
- It reduces the risk of developing any symptoms of COVID-19 infection (mild or severe) by 95% after the second dose.
- It helps reduce the virus spreading in the community.
- There are no expected long-term side effects.
- While we strongly encourage you to get your jabs to protect your health as well as that of your family and community, it is not compulsory.
Where to get more information
It is important that you make yourself as informed as possible so if you have any questions we encourage you to seek information from the following sources:
- Your family doctor.
- Healthline 24/7 on 0800 358 5453.
- The Auckland regional COVID website (which will direct you to the most appropriate resources).
How does the vaccine work?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine used in New Zealand contains a small piece of the genetic code of the COVID-19 virus called "mRNA".
Once injected this small piece of code leads to a small piece of the COVID-19 virus (called the "spike protein") being produced for a short period of time.
Your natural immune system finds this "spike protein" and recognises it as a foreign intruder to be destroyed.
Your immune system then produces antibodies, trains itself how best to fight COVID-19 and then remembers this information so that if you then come across an actual COVID-19 virus, your body is already prepared to fight it off and can do so much more effectively.
- Stimulates your natural immune system to fight COVID-19 in a controlled way
- CANNOT cause COVID-19 infection (only a small piece of dead virus is involved)
- Does NOT involve your body's DNA
- Does NOT include any 'live' COVID virus.
How can they be safe given they have been developed so quickly?
There are a large number of factors which helped the rapid development of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine:
- Unprecedented global cooperation with scientists sharing information.
- Pre-existing research (even though you may not have heard of mRNA vaccines before, mRNA technology has been known about since the 1990s. There has been a lot of vaccine development prior to COVID-19 because of previous viruses of concern including SARS-CoV 1, MERS and Ebola).
- The huge number of vaccine trial volunteers and the (unfortunate) huge numbers of COVID-19 infections has made it much easier and faster for researchers to show vaccine effectiveness and safety. All 4 phases of vaccine research have been completed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
- Governments have guaranteed pharmaceutical companies that they will buy their vaccine even before they were proven to work. This allowed Pfizer-BioNTech to invest huge amounts of money creating manufacturing plants to produce their vaccine immediately without risk of financial loss.
- MedSafe has assessed and approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It has also been assessed and approved by the World Health Organisation and approximately 45 other countries with their own regulatory bodies. Phase 4, post-marketing surveillance continues under intense scrutiny all over the world.
In short, there have been no shortcuts taken; rather the pandemic has highlighted the huge potential when the world works together on a scientific, financial and political level.
How effective is the vaccine?
The vaccine provides high levels of protection against COVID-19. It reduces the risk of developing any symptoms of COVID-19 infection (mild or severe) by 95% after the second dose (it is roughly a 50% reduction after the first dose).
Does the vaccine work against the new strains?
The vaccine is highly effective against the B 1.1.7 (UK) variant. The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the B 1.351 (South African) variant and P1 (Brazilian) variants is under investigation.
How long does the vaccine work for, will we need it annually like the flu vaccine?
We don't know yet but we should know in the near future. Our hope is that just like measles we will have a blood test for COVID-19 that tells us if you are protected.
Does the vaccine prevent me from transferring the virus to others?
Yes. Vaccination reduces the chance of vaccinated people becoming infected with COVID-19 and therefore will reduce transmission in the community. It is likely that if you have been vaccinated but unfortunately become infected with COVID-19 that the chances of you transmitting COVID-19 is reduced, however this has not yet conclusively been shown.
Therefore, being vaccinated does not remove the need to keep doing the stuff that's keeping us safe. Please continue to scan QR codes, wash your hands and wear a face covering if required. If you work in a high-risk area you will still need to use PPE and continue with other precautions.
Are there any side effects with the vaccination?
Like all medicines, the vaccine may cause side effects in some people. Some people may experience pain at the injection site, a headache, a fever and feeling tired or having muscle aches – these were the side effects most people reported.
These are usually mild and don't last long and won't stop you from having the second dose or going about your daily life. Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Our vaccinators are trained to manage these. Read more about the common side effects here.
What are the long-term side effects of the vaccine?
It is not possible to 100% know what potential side-effects a vaccine (or any other new medication) may have in 5 to 10 years' time.
However, there are no expected long-term side-effects from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the recipient.
All vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will continue under intense international scrutiny as part of Phase 4 surveillance.
There are some specific vaccine myths circulating which you may be alluding to for which we can say:
- The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does NOT affect your DNA (or that of any foetus) in any way.
- There is NO evidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine causes infertility. This includes NO evidence that the antibodies produced against the spike protein have any implications for the placenta.
The American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ACOG) have addressed this specific misinformation as part of their statement on COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant and lactating women here.
Have any long term effects of the vaccines such as Antibody Enhanced Disease (AED) been ruled out in the trial?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine studies have not specifically looked at Antibody Enhanced Disease if infected with COVID-19 following vaccination?
Dr. Paul Offit is one of the leading US academics in infectious diseases, vaccines, immunology and virology.
He has summarised the likelihood of ADE occurring with COVID-19 vaccination is extremely unlikely due to the following pieces of evidence:
- Reinfection of humans with different human coronaviruses (not COVID-19) does not lead to ADE
- Reinfection of humans with the same human coronavirus (not COVID-19) does not lead to ADE
- Animals infected with COVID-19 and then reinfected with COVID-19 do not develop ADE
- Animals receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and then COVID-19 infection do not develop ADE
- Patients infected with COVID-19 infection treated with convalescent plasma which contains antibodies against COVID-19 does not lead to ADE
Furthermore, there is no signal that people infected with COVID-19 after they have been vaccinated are suffering from more severe disease.
Is there a difference between the first and the second dose?
The content of the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is exactly the same.
However, it is common for people to have more of a reaction to the second dose - for example a sore arm, muscle aches, headaches, tiredness, fever.
This is because the immune system is 'primed' from the first dose – it teaches your body how to react to the virus so it can respond vigorously to the second dose. This is part of the vaccine 'doing its job'.
However it doesn't mean that people who don't have symptoms are not responding vigorously too, it's just that different people's systems react differently.
As noted previously, symptoms/side effects from vaccination are usually relatively mild and only last about 48 hours.
Do children under 15 year of age need to be vaccinated?
People under the age of 16 are not included in the vaccine rollout for now. There's limited data available for this age group as they weren't part of the clinical trials. MOH expects to have more information about the use of the vaccine in those under 16 years later this year.
If I have cold and cough symptoms should I be vaccinated?
No. Please wait until your symptoms have settled before you get the vaccine. It is important if you have these symptoms that you get tested for COVID-19.
What if I get an allergic reaction to the vaccine?
Once you receive the vaccine you will be asked to remain in the waiting area for up to 20 minutes to monitor for any kind of reaction. If you do get an allergic reaction you will be immediately treated by our vaccinators who are trained to managed these.
If anyone has a reaction to the first dose of the vaccine, they will be offered a different vaccine option for their second dose when that arrives.
Is the vaccine safe for people with allergies?
If you have had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or injection in the past, please discuss this with your vaccinator.
If you are on blood-thinning medications or have a bleeding disorder, please let your vaccinator know.
Is the vaccine safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women?
As per the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) recommendations, pregnant and breastfeeding women can receive the COVID-19 vaccine with no safety concerns for the woman or the infant.
IMAC is a nationwide organisation based at The University of Auckland.
If you are still unsure we advise that you speak with your vaccinator, GP or midwife.
Is the vaccine safe for people taking prescribed cancer drugs?
If you are receiving the cancer drugs Keytruda, Opdivo, Yervoy, or Tecentriq, talk with your specialist about whether you should receive the vaccine.
Is it safe for people with co-morbidities, like Diabetes or Cardiac issues to receive Pfizer vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is considered safe for people with diabetes and/or cardiac conditions.
Is the vaccine available to pregnant CMDHB employees?
Yes, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available to pregnant CMDHB employees if they wish to receive it.
Although there are no specific safety concerns for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in pregnant women, because the randomised controlled trial study on pregnant recipients is still underway AND the risk of encountering COVID-19 in New Zealand is very low, the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) has generally recommended that pregnant women in New Zealand without an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure delay their vaccination until after delivery unless they have other factors increasing their risk of COVID-19 infection. Their advice can be found here.
Pregnant women who choose to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be able to receive the vaccine at any stage during their pregnancy.
When will I get the vaccine?
For more information about the vaccination process and when you can get a vaccine click here.
Are you planning for everyone to have two injections? Should higher priority groups get two shots first?
You need two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to give you the best protection against the virus and the Government has secured enough COVID-19 vaccine for everyone in New Zealand to get the two doses they need to be fully vaccinated against the virus.
The second dose is given at least 21 days after the first dose so there will be opportunities to provide people in a 'lower' group with their first dose before someone in a 'higher' group receives their second dose.
When will I be contacted about my second dose?
The second dose is given at least 21 days after the first dose. You will be contacted (via the email address and/or phone number you provide when receiving your first vaccination) prior to the 21 day mark with information on how to book your next appointment.