7 Mar 2022

Covid-19 vaccine: More than 1500 people affected by incorrect storage

5:24 pm on 7 March 2022

More than 1500 people who received a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago may not be fully protected after the doses were stored at an incorrect temperature.

The vaccine roll-out for 5 to 11-year-olds started on Monday after Medsafe approved the Pfizer paediatric vaccination last month.

(File image) Photo: Getty Picture Alliance

In a statement, Southern District Health Board (SDHB) said the vaccines were administered at various locations in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago between 1 December 2021 and 28 January 2022.

The issue mainly affected booster shots but some were of first and second doses of the vaccine.*

SDHB medical officer of health Susan Jack said: "There is no risk of harm to individuals that have received a vaccine stored at an incorrect temperature. However, in these circumstances the vaccine is not considered to be potent nor to produce a reliable level of immunity".

"The SDHB recognises the inconvenience and anxiety it may cause for the affected individuals. We sincerely apologise to those people who have been impacted by this incident, and also to their whānau," SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.

The DHB said it was contacting affected individuals, and they were being encouraged to get another dose to ensure they had a high level of protection against the virus.

The Queenstown-based vaccination and occupational health provider has apologised for the upset caused.

Engage Safety director and clinical lead Debbie Swain-Rewi confirmed the issue was identified during a Southern DHB audit last week.

"An issue with the cold chain storage of the vaccine will mean the affected people's immunity against Covid-19 may not be as high as possible and I hope everyone affected makes sure they get another vaccine to have the best protection possible," she said.

"I want to say how very sorry I am for the inconvenience and upset caused to all the people affected by this."

She has been providing vaccinations for more than a decade and has a long history in health in the Queenstown Lakes area.

"This issue has never happened before and I am fully supporting the SDHB's investigation into the matter. We are not conducting vaccinations during this time."

SDHB said temperature-related vaccine storage issues, referred to as cold chain failures, could happen at any stage in the process, but there were robust requirements in place to ensure correct storage and that issues were identified quickly, and any impact was minimised.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

In a statement, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said it was "extremely disappointing to hear that a number of folk who have tried to do the right thing and get vaccinated or boosted have fallen foul of an isolated failure in the cold storage system".

"For those affected who received their first, second or booster shots, believing themselves to be gaining vital protection against Omicron this will no doubt be very stressful and worrying."

But Boult said it was reassuring to see that SDHB had picked up on the error and that affected people would be contacted.

"I would like to thank the SDHB for advising the public about this isolated incident as soon as they became aware and quickly putting in place steps to remedy the situation.

"This shouldn't knock [people's] confidence in the process. This is limited to one provider. The DHB are being very proactive ... in contacting everybody.

"I understand that the particular provider concerned will be making a statement so that will put some ease into the community when they know it's one particular organisation that is involved."

He urged those affected to get a replacement dose as soon as possible for the sake of the community.

"We are already seeing Omicron affecting local businesses and organisations, and council has had to reduce hours at some of its facilities due to staff illness or isolation requirements. I am sure there is worse to come so anything we can do to limit that impact is frankly a no brainer."

People with concerns or who need more advice on a replacement vaccine are able to access a fully funded GP consultation, or they can talk to a health professional such as their pharmacist, or they can call 0800 28 29 26 (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm).

People affected by the incident who wish to book their replacement vaccination can call 0800 28 29 26 (seven days a week, 8am to 8pm) for more information.

Some answers to frequently asked questions on replacement vaccines can be found here.

*This article was updated on 7 March, 2022 to correct that the storage issue affected some first and second Covid-19 vaccine doses, not just boosters.

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