Covid 19 coronavirus vaccine: All you need to know

Today is the groundbreaking start of biggest vaccination plan in New Zealand’s history. Here’s everything you need to know about the new jab.

When can you get the vaccine and who is first in line?

Today, border and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) workers are the first to be vaccinated.

It’s expected to take two to three weeks to vaccinate border workers including cleaners, nurses, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff, hotel workers and all of their household contacts.

Healthcare, essential workers and those most at risk will follow in the second quarter of the year.

The remaining general public vaccinations are expected to begin in the second half of 2021.

Where will you be able to get the vaccine?

For frontline workers, vaccinations will mostly be taking place in their usual workplace such as MIQ facilities.

Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said its likely the general public would visit a specific vaccination site or clinic which each DHB was working to set up in its region.

The Herald understands people will need to book an appointment before turning up but the details of that are still to be ironed out.

How many doses of the vaccine does each person need?

The recommended dose is two jabs, 21 days apart. It’s not yet known if people will need to get a new jab each year.

Where have the are vaccines come from?

New Zealand has pre-purchased four vaccines, from firms Pfizer and BioNTech; Janssen Pharmaceutica; Novavax; and AstraZeneca.

The first agreement was for 1.5 million doses from Pfizer and BioNTech.

This is enough vaccines for 750,000 people with each person needing two doses about a month apart.

An in-principle agreement has been signed with Janssen Pharmaceutica to purchase up to five million vaccines – likely to be a single dose.

In December, the Government signed a further agreement with Novavax to purchase 10.72 million doses of its vaccines – enough for two doses for 5.36 million people – but this isn’t expected until later this year.

The other deal signed in December would secure New Zealand 7.6 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – enough for 3.8 million people.

How effective are the vaccines?

Companies who make the vaccines say they are between 90 to 95 per cent effective.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said that level of effectiveness not only protected people from severe illness or death but also symptomatic illness.

“The ongoing trials and the ongoing monitoring of people who have been vaccinated will give us an idea of how long the immunity might last but all the studies that are being done suggest that especially once people get that second dose they do have a good response and immunity does last for at least some months.”

How does the vaccine work?

Unlike the flu shots New Zealanders typically get each year, the Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t contain any live viruses.

Instead, a virus that has been made inactive by special treatment is introduced into the body, allowing the immune system to learn how to fight live versions of it in the future.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca “viral vector” vaccine works slightly differently, by using a virus that has been genetically engineered so that it can’t cause disease – but carries the instructions for our body to produce coronavirus proteins to safely generate an immune response.

The Novovax vaccine is a “protein” vaccine and uses only harmless fragments of the virus shells that mimic the Covid-19 virus, to safely generate an immune response.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is more sophisticated, and part of a new generation of shots called mRNA vaccines.

These teach our cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, that triggers an immune response inside our body.

That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our body.

Covid-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein”, which is found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19.

The Janssen vaccine, meanwhile, is a “recombinant vector vaccine” that uses a human adenovirus to express the virus spike protein in cells.

How do we know the vaccines are safe?

None of these vaccines use the live virus that causes Covid-19 and they don’t change or interact with our DNA in any way.

They also must comply with international standards and local requirements for quality, safety and efficacy before they can be approved by Medsafe and used in New Zealand.

Although Medsafe is streamlining its assessment processes and prioritising the evaluation of the vaccines over other medicines, they’ll still have the same rigorous level of scrutiny that all medicines undergo.

New Zealand’s place near the back of the global queue – largely because of our successful response wiping out local transmission – means regulators have more time to assess.

Will there be side effects?

Yes, there are side effects. Some people will have none and a few feel quite off colour for a day or two.

These effects are related to an immune response and experts say they could be seen as a positive sign of responding to the vaccine.

By and large, side effects are all fairly minor and don’t last long. Being even a little bit sick with Covid lasts far longer.

As the Pfizer vaccine does not contain any live virus, people who have compromised immune systems aren’t at risk of a live virus replicating. You cannot get Covid from these vaccines.

How much will it cost to get the vaccine?

The Government has announced Covid-19 vaccinations will be free and voluntary for everyone in the country regardless of visa status.

More than $66 million has been allocated to support the rollout of the vaccine. Most of this Government spend is to pay for enough supplies to vaccinate our entire population and support our Pacific Realm countries.

Who can get the vaccine?

Anyone in New Zealand can get a vaccine as long as they are older than 16. That means citizens, residents and workers on a visa – regardless of its status.

The Pfizer vaccine has not been approved for children and rangatahi under 16 years old because it wasn’t trialled in that age group.

The Government said this decision could be reconsidered if more information became available.

How many people is the Government hoping to vaccinate?

Ideally – at least 90 per cent of the population.

Bloomfield has said 70 per cent vaccination would be the minimum needed for herd immunity, depending on factors including vaccine efficacy.

However, polling suggests only about 70 per cent of New Zealanders would be prepared to get vaccinated, and a further 20 per cent – the “vaccine hesitant” – would get a jab if they were very sure it was safe.

About 10 per cent said they wouldn’t.

The Government has promised alongside the vaccine rollout will be a large-scale public education and awareness campaign to ensure people are reliably informed.

Who will give the vaccines?

The Government is planning for an extra 2000 to 3000 fulltime vaccinators who will be trained and available when needed throughout New Zealand.

This workforce will continue to scale up during 2021 in line with vaccine delivery schedules.

The Ministry has also contracted the Immunisation Advisory Centre to provide training on Covid-19 vaccines, which is expected to start this month, initially for those vaccinators who will deliver the Pfizer vaccine and then for nurses, doctors and pharmacists.

Can the vaccines expire?

Yes. Once Covid vaccines are removed from ultra-cold freezers they need to be used within days or they will expire. Transporting the exact number of doses needed for frontline workers based in the regions will be crucial to prevent any wastage.

The vaccines must be stored at ultra-low temperatures, and will be kept in nine -80°C freezers that can store more than 1.5 million doses in total.

Those will be in Auckland and the South Island. However, because the vaccines can be stored for up to five days in normal cold chain fridges at temperatures from 2-8°C, and up to two hours at room temperature prior to use, vaccines will be administered across the country, in areas with borders or MIQ facilities.

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