27 Jan 2021

Health staff train up to administer Pfizer vaccine

6:40 am on 27 January 2021

Doctors and nurses are racing to learn how to administer Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine as a major step towards the rollout is signalled.

A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer vaccine at the Pablo Arturo Suarez Hospital in Quito on January 21, 2021.

A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Photo: AFP

The final, formal part of the Medsafe approval process will take place next week, with the government saying that could be granted by Wednesday if all goes to plan.

But there were still questions over exactly when the vaccine will arrive and how ready the health system is to distribute it.

The president of the College of GPs, Samantha Murton, said general practices were preparing.

They were undergoing training in how to administer a jab that had some quirks, including coming in multiple-dose vials and having to be stored at super-cold temperatures.

"We haven't dealt with frozen vaccines before. We do have a few vaccines that come in a big vial - but that's only a small number," she said.

However to patients, the jab would feel the same as any other, she said.

Logistics would be key to the success of any rollout, with clinics needing to plan the timing for the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and to ensure it is not thawed too quickly and spoiled, she said.

The director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, Nikki Turner, said Medsafe was in a good position when it came to weighing up whether to approve the vaccine.

Not only did it have access to the large trial results, but also to data from countries already distributing the vaccine under emergency approval.

"It is very reassuring for New Zealand to have both clinical trial data and real world data so we are in a really positive position that we were not the first cab off the rank," she said.

The government did not have a hard date for the vaccination to arrive here, with the Prime Minister saying it was reliant on Pfizer's ability to deliver it here as well as to countries where people were dying in large numbers.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he hoped there would be enough to protect border workers and their families by the end of March, with a mass vaccination starting mid-year.

"If our delivery came earlier than the timetable we have set out then we will make sure we are ready to go earlier," he said.

But Pacific GP network chairperson, Api Talemaitoga, said there was still plenty of work to do before the government could call itself ready-to-go.

It needed to do more to train Pacific doctors and nurses to give the jab and to get Pacific faces fronting health campaigns, he said.

And it needed to start immediately to publicise the vaccine - with the right information, he said.

"Although I don't want to give it oxygen, we have to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of people that will try to spread miss and disinformation out there to try and stop people from taking the vaccine," he said.

The Pacific community bore the brunt of a poorly-run vaccination campaign at the height of the 2019 measles epidemic and last year the Ministry of Health was criticised for problems distributing the flu vaccine.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre's Nikki Turner said those mistakes could end up helping with the Covid-19 campaign.

Despite the flu vax problems last year, nearly a quarter of the population, 1.7 million people, were eventually immunised within eight weeks, she said.

"So we can do this but what we need to learn from historical experience is how to get it done more smoothly," she said.

New Zealand has agreed to purchase enough of the Pfizer vaccine to cover 750,000 people.

It has agreements to purchase two other vaccines but they are not expected until at least the last quarter of this year - if approved.

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