13 May 2021

Covid-19 vaccine rollout to teens may happen at schools - Bloomfield

From Checkpoint, 8:06 pm on 13 May 2021

The Ministry of Health is looking at launching a school-based programme for teenagers to get their Covid-19 vaccinations from the end of term 3.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said once the Pfizer vaccine was approved for 12 to 15-year-olds, that group would be added to the programme and would be vaccinated by the end of the year.

The ministry said it hoped between 50,000 and 70,000 people would be able to be vaccinated each day at health hubs, GP clinics and at pharmacies, when the programme was rolled out to the wider population in July.

But it comes with a warning for the team of five million, that when the borders reopen to more low-risk countries, alert level 2.5 could be the new norm.

"HPV and tetanus [vaccinations] ... all happens in schools mainly, and in general practice we might see them occasionally, so there's a really good system," Dr Samantha Murton from the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said.

Dr Bloomfield acknowledged the end of terms 3 and 4 was a busy time for students and the programme would need to be well-planned.

"It may well be that a school-based programme is not needed, but we're just starting to think about that," he said.

"And that would obviously require close discussion with our education studies."

But Auckland Grammar principal Tim O'Connor told Checkpoint implementing the vaccines was no small task and schools already had a lot on their plate.

"Each school will operate in its own manner, so the operating system for one will not necessarily be transferable to another. So it will become reliant on schools actually spending time and energy on an area that's not a primary focus.

"That is a busy time of the year where we're actually trying to catch up on learning, especially in Auckland where we've had some downtime due to lockdowns."

Even if school-based vaccinations did not happen, Dr Bloomfield was confident all eligible teenagers would be vaccinated by the end of the year, along with the rest of the population.

He said that would be achieved because of the number of general practices offering Covid-19 vaccines.

"We've had a look at what the mix is likely to be, to ensure we can hit those numbers of 50,000 to 70,000 at the peak. And our view is that it will be around 30 percent to 40 percent of the general practices, at least at the start, and maybe around a quarter of pharmacies as part of the mix, and then maybe we can extend out further."

ProCare oversees more than 170 practices in the Auckland region with over 800,00 registered patients.

Its clinical director Dr Allan Moffitt said staff had been keen to vaccinate their patients.

"General practice has been asking for this for some time, and at least in Auckland the DHBs were putting up a lot of barriers to us being able to get practices to update.

"So the news today is fantastic, we knew it was coming, we've been working very hard behind the scenes to make it happen, and our practices are ready to go."

Dr Bloomfield said vaccination rates would be a significant part of the government's decision-making when it decided to open the borders, and gave some insights into what life might look like then.

"I was talking to [Covid-19 recovery advisory group member] Rob Fyfe earlier in the week and he'd been to Queensland, and noticed a difference in the baseline level of expectations there, even with no cases in the community.

"Wider use of masks than here, and also for example in hospitality settings people can't serve themselves, and so on.

"So it may well be, while I strongly believe that even alongside vaccination, we may well need to lift our baseline level of what you might call public health protective behaviours as part of our move to open up to a wider group of what you might call low-risk countries, let alone beyond that.

"It may well be that we need to be at more of a 2.5 level alongside vaccination as part of the protections we need in place routinely to be able to open the border."

The US Centre for Disease Control has said whilst adolescents were considered low risk for contracting Covid-19, still 1.5 million cases have been reported there and vaccinations will limit the spread as more contagious variants circulate.