Concerns training of Covid-19 vaccinators being 'rushed through' amid shortages

The Ministry of Health is proposing a change of legislation to bolster the number of people who can administer Covid-19 vaccinations after recognising a shortage of 4500 workers - however there are concerns people are being rushed through training.

In a second webinar on the proposal yesterday, the ministry's director of sector engagement, workforce and welfare Fiona Michel said while the proposed regulation won't mean those who take up the opportunity must have past or present experience in the health care sector, that was the target group.

It could mean students, retirees, those in dentistry or other areas of health could get an opportunity to upskill and help with the nation's rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations. They will work in teams of around six with one supervisor.

However, one accredited vaccinator told 1 NEWS some health professionals have concerns about the rushed process.

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous due to working in health, said nurses, pharmacists, paramedics and midwives can administer vaccines only after completing level 3 CPR, clinical peer assessment and 16 hours of training.

"I am concerned that this is being rushed through," she said, adding their were "major safety concerns".

"If there is an error, would the supervisor be liable? How can one vaccinator monitor six people vaccinating safely? Where could they stand to watch everyone and patient privacy be maintained?"

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) agreed it's not the correct approach.

"There are many roles for unregulated support workers that do not involve checking or administering the actual vaccination – such as education and support," a spokesperson said.

However, a Ministry if Health spokesperson has assured the new workforce will receive specialist training required to "meet the same high standards for the tasks they will perform as is expected of all vaccinators in New Zealand".

"We have engaged IMAC (Immunisation Advisory Centre) to deliver all training for our Covid-19 vaccinator programme, including for this new workforce. The training includes completing an online module, face-to-face learning, supervised practice and assessment.

"They will be employed by the provider that is funded to roll out the vaccination programme on behalf of the ministry."

The ministry said it expects to be able to provide an update on vaccinator training numbers in coming days.

It comes as Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins this morning said New Zealand reached a milestone of 5000 vaccinators completing specialised training to administer the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

"The Immunisation Advisory Centre started running the training for the Pfizer vaccine in February and as of this week, we've had 5,358 vaccinators who've completed the programme," he said.

"So far, almost 2,00 vaccinators have been involved in actively immunising people since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout started nearly three months ago."

However, shortages are already emerging at some sites.

"The vaccination workforce needs to increase in size significantly in order to meet demand of vaccinating groups three and four from July 2021," the ministry's proposal says.

"Efforts to date have resulted in over 4200 trained regulated vaccinators, 1500 of whom are actively vaccinating. However, a shortage of around 4500 vaccinators still exists to deliver the pool of full-time equivalent (FTE) resource required to deliver to the year-end timeframes.

"Additionally, we need to ensure our vaccinator workforce reflects the population it serves and can deliver vaccines to people in a culturally safe way." Currently only 10 per cent of New Zealand's vaccinator workforce is Māori and three per cent are Pacific.

The ministry is proposing changes to the Medicines Regulations 1984 to allow a range of people across the country to work as "Covid-19 Vaccination Assistants", although Michel said that name was being debated.

The Covid-19 Vaccination Assistants will be authorised to administer the vaccine to low risk people and observe them post-vaccine.

They would also require basic CPR training.

However, the NZNO spokesperson said the consultation period was too short.

"This move to unregulated personnel is significant and warranted far more than the minimal consultation process that is now being entered into."

Consultation on the proposal ended at midday today.

There will be ministerial and agency consultation tomorrow, then final Cabinet paper and amendment regulations lodged on Friday. 

If the proposal goes ahead, vaccination assistants will begin training from June 7, then support other vaccinators by administering jabs to groups three and four from July.

As well, Michel said the public won't get to know if the person giving them the shot is one of the newly trained vaccinators.

The NZNO spokesperson described communication with the ministry about the proposal as "poor".

"This is a significant change that has major impact on the public and the regulated health professionals who will be overseeing the work of the wider team. The consultation has been short and the information provided insufficient to be able to give well informed input.

"NZNO is in support of a successful vaccination programme, as this is key to the ongoing effective management of Covid-19 – however early and robust consultation should have been part of the strategy for unregulated vaccinators."

However, when asked about the quick timeframe, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners president Samantha Murton told 1 NEWS "we're in a pandemic, that's the way everything's been in the last year - it's quick, quick changes and so we can't help it".

She said while they support the Ministry of Health's efforts to bolster the volume of vaccinators, it was important the new workforce was well-trained for any medical work they undertake.

"There'll be some things that I think we just need to be very careful about making sure that these people are exceedingly well-trained in the roles that they're going to have.

"If you've got enough skills and training and you know exactly what you're dealing with and you are under supervision then the Immunisation Advisory Centre is responsible for that training and so we expect that to be adequate to do the job."

In his statement today, Hipkins said not all of the people trained so far will be available to work full-time, so additional initiatives like this were underway to further boost New Zealand's pool of vaccinators "as supplementary Covid-19 vaccinators".

"As part of this change, we would target people with health and disability sector experience, such as kaiāwhina, internationally-trained healthcare professionals who are not currently registered in New Zealand and New Zealand-trained healthcare professionals with lapsed annual practising certificates. This new workforce would undergo specialist training first and their work would be fully supervised," he said.

Additional reporting by Irra Lee.