17 Feb 2021

Frontline staff prepare to get first dose of Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine

10:44 am on 17 February 2021

Trucks full of Covid-19 vaccine syringes will be heading to the Jet Park MIQ hotel from Saturday 20 February, bringing a mixture of relief and trepidation among those on the receiving end.

Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 disease vaccine are displayed at the regional corona vaccination centre in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on January 22, 2021.

At the very front of the queue for the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine are cleaners, nurses and security staff from Auckland's Jet Park quarantine hotel. Photo: AFP

Plans are coming together for thousands of border workers to be immunised for Covid-19 by mid-March, but some workers are still seeking reassurances about the jab.

Mel Jones, a housekeeper at an Auckland managed isolation hotel, will be offering up her arm for two of the Pfizer vaccines because she wants to protect herself and her family.

She is not sure exactly what day she will be vaccinated or if she will need to book.

"I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I'm apprehensive about it because it's come so soon. I was hoping I'd get more information about it," she said.

Jones hoped webinars offered over the next few days would give her the confidence some of her colleagues have in the vaccine.

"I feel like there's been a lack of information in terms of when we will get the second vaccine, what kind of support we will get from the hotel and the Ministry of Health and even our own GPs if something goes wrong."

Jones is among several thousand borders workers for whom the vaccine rollout begins this Saturday.

At the very front of the queue are cleaners, nurses and security staff from Auckland's Jet Park quarantine hotel, as well as Wellington's Grand Mercure and Christchurch's Sudima Airport hotels, which are 'dual-use' managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Then, staff at the other 29 MIQ hotels will be vaccinated, along with customs and border officials, hotel and airline workers.

Unite Union industrial officer John Crocker said MIQ staff would meet the nurse vaccinators at or near their place of work.

He was also aware of some reservations among staff.

"They've been very, very brave dealing with the virus and the stigma in their community, and obviously they're looking forward to the extra layer of protection," he said.

"The thing we've heard from them, if there's any concern, is that they'd like a bit more information about the vaccine. They're aware that they're first. They just want some more information."

Ultra-low temperature freezers which will be used to store Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine vials.

Ultra-low temperature freezers which will be used to store Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine vials. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Nurses Society of New Zealand director David Wills hopes stringent measures for infection prevention and control will still be maintained at the hotels once the workforce is immunised.

So far he said there had been unanimous support from the healthcare workers in MIQ hotels.

"Those working in the types of facilities are particularly keen. We expect 100 percent uptake and haven't had anyone express any reservations or concerns about the process or the vaccine," he said.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) represents MIQ nurses on the sharp end of the syringe, but also people who will administer the jab.

NZNO professional advisor Kate Weston said highly adept nurses had been selected for that job.

"They are nurses who have been doing vaccination for other diseases previously. So they're highly skilled, highly experienced," she said.

"Our expectation is that they'll be working with adequate health and safety measures - particularly looking at what PPE, what personal protective equipment they'll need," she said.

Be it wasted vials or people turning up to clinics without bookings, Royal New Zealand College of GPs president Dr Samantha Murton believed some hiccups in the country's vaccination process were inevitable.

She warned the vaccination program was a "sea of moving parts" but said starting the rollout with border workers was more manageable than launching straight into the wider population.

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