COVID-19 vaccines – Keeping our families safe

As New Zealand prepares to roll out the first lot of Covid-19 vaccines tomorrow, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, says he hopes there are good vaccination rates amongst the Pacific community to strengthen their resistance of Covid-19.

Dr Bloomfield and a panel of Pacific health clinicians who are also members of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), spoke at a national zoom talanoa last night attended by over 600 Pacific church, community, and youth leaders. Hosted by the Hon. Aupito William Sio, Minister for Pacific Peoples, the focus was on providing information and answering questions regarding the Covid-19 vaccinations.

Dr Bloomfield said, “We are adamant that we do not want New Zealand being the route where Covid-19 gets into the Pacific.

In preparation for our Covid-19 vaccination campaign, we are thinking not just about New Zealand but about our Pacific neighbours, and in particular the countries across the Pacific region. We are also thinking hard about how we can work with our Pacific communities onshore to ensure that we get a large uptake of vaccination rates here.”

Dr Bloomfield said the Pfizer vaccines have already received provisional approval from Medsafe. Medsafe is the Government authority responsible for the regulation of therapeutic products in New Zealand and their vision is ‘To enhance the health of New Zealanders by regulating medicines and medical devices to maximise safety and benefit’.

Border workers, their families and household contacts will be the first to receive the vaccines this week. This will be followed by frontline and non-border staff, such as police, paramedics and residential care workers. Elderly and those with pre-existing conditions will then have access before the vaccine becomes available to the rest of the community.

Dr Bloomfield says the Pacific community will be a priority.

“We want to make sure that vaccine access is equitable and reaches out into the Pacific and Māori communities. It’s an opportunity to protect our whānau and will help to keep our country safe.”

Dr Corina Grey is a member of the Vaccination Taskforce at the Auckland District Health Board and is a senior member of the PMA. She accepts there maybe uncertainty about the vaccines within the Pacific community but reiterates the importance of the vaccines being the best defence against Covid-19.

“We are lucky that we are in a position in New Zealand to follow what’s been happening in the US and UK vaccinations. More than 12 million doses have already been given out and they have shown to be safe and effective.”

In explaining how the vaccines work, Dr Grey says it is different from the usual vaccines in that it’s not a ‘live vaccine’, meaning it does not have the Covid-19 virus in it.

“This vaccine teaches the body to recognise and react like it has had Covid-19 before. Then if it is exposed to the virus, you won’t suffer from serious complications.”

She says more research is needed to ascertain whether the vaccine will stop someone from getting Covid-19. At this stage, it only reduces someone from suffering serious complications if they contract the virus.

“Even if you get the vaccine, it’s still important to keep adhering to public health measures, like social distancing, hand washing, good hygiene and wearing masks.”

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 Date: Thursday 18 February 2021