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Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

16 April 2021
Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

In collaboration with nib Group CMO Dr Mellissa Naidoo

We need vaccines to help bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control and get us back to a new normal, but you might have some questions about it.

With vaccinations already being rolled out in New Zealand, we sat down with nib Group Executive Chief & Health Medical Officer Dr Mellissa Naidoo to answer some of the most common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Question directory

 

How do we know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

Despite the record-breaking speed of COVID-19 vaccine development, there have been no short cuts in safety testing. All vaccines approved in New Zealand go through a rigorous programme of testing conducted through Medsafe, our country’s medical regulatory authority.

“It’s natural to worry whether brand new medicines are safe and effective, but New Zealand has strict regulatory processes to ensure this,” says Dr Naidoo.

Kiwis can also take assurance from the fact that so far, more than 100 million people have been safely immunised around the world, and the vaccines have been approved for use by Medsafe.

“New Zealand has done an amazing job of keeping the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum, but as recent community outbreaks and rising alert levels reveal, there’s still a long way to go before we have peace of mind. This is a highly infectious disease with significant health risks. Getting immunised will help protect you and those around you,” says Dr Naidoo.

 

How do we know the COVID-19 vaccines are effective?

New Zealand’s Medsafe will only approve vaccines that are safe and effective.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in New Zealand, and frontline staff and border workers have started receiving the vaccine.

As with any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine may not fully protect everyone who receives the jab, but the effectiveness rate is over and beyond what is needed to protect our community.

Clinical trials have shown there is an approximately 95% protection, after receiving two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Related: The 7 biggest COVID-19 vaccine myths

 

Who will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines?

Anyone living in New Zealand who wishes to be immunised against COVID-19 will be eligible to receive the vaccine. This includes all visa holders, refugees and asylum seekers.

Vaccination is voluntary, but the Government is encouraging us to all do our bit and get vaccinated, because it will be the fastest route to ensure domestic travel can continue and our international borders can open.

 

How are the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out?

New Zealand’s COVID-19 vaccines programme has already started rolling out and will reach over 2 million people in most at risk groups over the coming months. These are based on priority – those most needing protection will be offered the vaccine first.

The Government has established four different groups and the vaccine will be rolled out accordingly.

Group 1 – February onwards:

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is first being offered to those who come into frequent contact with the virus, including quarantine and border workers, airport and security staff, managed isolation hotel workers and cleaners. Once they’ve been vaccinated, the people they live with will be vaccinated as well.

Group 2 – between March and May:

Next will be frontline healthcare workers, such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and those working at the testing centres. People who are living in high-risk settings are also included within this group, such as those living and working in long-term residential care homes, older Māori and Pacific people cared for by their whānau and those who live with and care for them, and residents of the Counties Manukau DHB area who fit one of the following criteria:

  • 65 and older
  • disabled people
  • pregnant people (any trimester)
  • have a relevant underlying health condition.

This group started receiving the vaccine in March and will continue until May.

Group 3 – May onwards:

Priority populations include people aged 65 and older, disabled, pregnant, have a relevant underlying health condition and those residing in prison.

Group 4 – July onwards:

Finally, the remainder of the population will have access to the vaccine.

Two other categories are being explored as well. One group are for those who may be able to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds, and the other is a “national significance category” where people may need to get a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas.

To find out when you can get the COVID-19 vaccine, check out this helpful tool that will show you which group you would most likely fall under.

If you have further questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, you can ring the Government’s national Healthline team (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.

 

Where will people be vaccinated?

A variety of locations will be available for people to get their COVID-19 vaccines. For some groups such as workers and residents of long-term residential care environments, they’ll be able to get their vaccine near their workplace or care facility. For the general public, vaccine locations will include doctors, pharmacies, pop-up centres, community clinics, medical and hauora centres and Māori and Pacific providers.

In South Auckland, a new vaccination centre has been established with a focus on border workers’ families. There will also be two more large-scale vaccination centres established in Central and West Auckland.

 

How many shots of the COVID-19 vaccine are needed?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires a second injection so as to afford best protection. It’s recommended that the second dose be administered at least 21-days apart.

The second dose ensures that a person makes more antibodies and also that they get longer-term protection. Without the second dose, a person won’t have the immune memory required to quickly fire up an effective antibody response against a future infection of COVID-19.

 

Do I have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccines?

The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone living in New Zealand, regardless of your visa or citizenship status.

 

What are the likely side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Common reactions to Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination include pain, redness, swelling where you received the needle and mild fever. These minor side effects usually resolve within a couple of days.

Serious side effects such as severe allergic reactions are extremely rare, and they normally occur within the first 20 minutes of vaccination. For this reason, everyone will be asked to wait at their place of vaccination for 30 minutes after the shot.

 

Can the COVID-19 vaccine give me COVID-19?

No. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the live virus or even the whole virus that causes COVID-19, so they can’t give you COVID-19.

 

What if I’m allergic to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Anyone who is allergic to any of the components of a vaccine should be offered another vaccine, when available in New Zealand, or they will not be vaccinated. Before you are given a vaccine, you will be screened with a safety checklist to ensure you don’t have any allergies to any of the vaccine ingredients.

“While there have been some reports of allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine overseas, severe allergic reactions are rare and estimated to occur in only about 11 cases per million,” says Dr Naidoo.

“If you have a history of allergies or are concerned about this risk, you should discuss this with your doctor to help ensure your health and safety during vaccination,” she recommends.

 

Can pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine?

In New Zealand, pregnant people are eligible for the vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy. For those pregnant and residing in the Counties Manukau DHB area, they will be eligible as part of the Group 2 vaccine roll-out between March and May. All remaining pregnant women will be able to receive the vaccine under the Group 3 category in May onwards.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have concerns, it’s best to discuss getting the vaccine with your doctor or midwife.

 

Will children be vaccinated against COVID-19?

At this stage, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is not included for people under the age of 16 as they haven’t been part of the clinical trials.

This may change for future vaccinations, as more data and evidence is made available.

 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine?

It’s important to still get your annual flu vaccine when the flu season comes around.

According to Dr Naidoo, “Getting a flu jab has become even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of getting the flu and associated complications and keep you fit and healthy.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way you can protect yourself and the people around you, including those with chronic diseases or those more vulnerable to serious illness,” she added.

“However, regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated, it is important we all continue to also practise physical distancing, good hand hygiene and isolate when unwell to protect our community”.

Ideally, there should be at least a 14-day gap between having a flu jab and having any dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It doesn’t matter whether you get your flu jab before your COVID-19 jabs or vice versa. Your doctor can help ensure that the timing of flu and COVID-19 vaccination is within the recommendations.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2021 flu vaccine

 

Can I get other vaccinations alongside the COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s recommended that you leave a gap between receiving different types of vaccinations, so it’s easier to judge which vaccine may be responsible for any side effects.

If you are getting the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine, there should be a four-week gap between receiving the MMR vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. For other vaccines, speak to your doctor or relevant health professional for advice.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines and the rollout plan in New Zealand, please visit the Ministry of Health website.

Please note: The information throughout this article was prepared on 13 April 2021 and it should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

About Dr Mellissa Naidoo

Dr Mellissa Naidoo is Group Executive Health & Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for nib. She is a specialist in Medical Leadership and Healthcare Management, with over 18 years’ experience working as a doctor in clinical, medical education and health executive roles in public and private hospitals.

Mellissa is passionate about the future of health and the role clinical innovation and digital technology will play in access to care and better health outcomes for everyone. She is actively involved in training the next generation of medical leaders and an Adjunct

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