20 Feb 2021

'Beginning of the end': vaccine rollout key step to fight Covid-19

9:16 am on 20 February 2021

Today's vaccine rollout marks a crucial step in defeating Covid-19, a vaccine expert says, providing a chance "to beat this thing back".

A vaccinator prepares one of New Zealand's first Covid-19 vaccinations on 19 February.

A vaccinator prepares one of New Zealand's first Covid-19 vaccinations in Auckland yesterday. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Vaccine jabs are being given to the country's border and managed isolation and quarantine workers, starting today and continuing for several weeks.

The immunisation of 12,000 people begins in Auckland, then Wellington on Monday and Christchurch on Wednesday, before the rest of the country.

Yesterday around 25 of the nurses who are giving the vaccines were immunised with their first dose.

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Helen Petousis-Harris Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland University vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said today is a key point in the pandemic fightback.

"I think it sort of marks the beginning of the end really of this nightmare. It's not over yet - it's going to take a little bit of time.

"But I think from here on perhaps we can look forward to beating this thing back."

She added that while it is a momentous day, the country still has some distance to travel before the pandemic is over.

However, it is helpful to the rollout that the first "real-world data" examining the impact of the Covid jabs shows the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to cut Covid-19 transmissions and infections by two thirds, Petousis-Harris said.

Early data from a British study show it reduces the likelihood of sharing it significantly across all groups.

The vaccine has been known to reduce illness and hospitalisation, but whether or not it could be passed on by vaccinated people to others was another question.

The Daily Telegraph is reporting Public Health England data as showing: "critically, just one dose of either vaccine appears to block transmission of the virus by around two thirds in all age groups".

"It gives us more evidence that while we're vaccinating them we're protecting them but also that we can get more confident in the knowledge that they're unlikely to also be able to pass it on," Petousis-Harris said.

The Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the aim is to have all the country's border and MIQ staff vaccinated over the next few weeks.

Vaccinating everyone who wants it will take a year.

Dr Bloomfield said the Pfizer vaccine is the first the country has used that needs ultra-low temperature storage.

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