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Kiwi vaccine expert breaks down concerns around Covid-19 vaccinations

A Wellington immunologist says people with concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines should be treated with respect, as Medsafe waits to approve the vaccine amid the global roll-out.

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Professor Graham Le Gros says New Zealand has the "privilege" of waiting to roll out the vaccine. Source: Breakfast

New Zealand has yet to formally approve any of the vaccines, despite emergency approvals being granted in the UK and the US.

The World Health Organization has urged against rushing the roll-out in New Zealand; National leader Judith Collins has repeatedly said the roll-out needs to be fast-tracked.

Amid the issue, members of the public and online concerns have been raised about whether the vaccine is actually safe — and whether it's safer than the alternative of catching Covid-19.

Immunologist Graham Le Gros, director of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa, says anti-vaxxers — people against vaccinations altogether —should "wash those thoughts away".

However, he says some people have "legitimate" concerns such as questions about which of the various vaccines are better, as well as individual reactions for people.

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"There's ideas that the vaccine's been rushed. The vaccines haven't been rushed — they've gone through very carefully." he told TVNZ1's Breakfast today.

"You can understand there's quite a degree of caution — how will this vaccine work for me? Which one do I want? What will set me up for the future? These are legitimate."

Before signing off on any of the vaccines for public use, Medsafe is looking at data from all the vaccine companies, Le Gros says.

It includes looking at any batches that don't work out well, as well as how people with comorbidities such as allergies or asthma, or are on certain medications, are responding.

"They can build a real picture of how each of those different vaccines perform on the real front line there. That's wonderful information to feed into those involved," Le Gros says.

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"Medsafe will not let anything go through to the Ministry of Health until it's satisfied all the requirements around production, batches, reliability in people is really sorted through."

Addressing concerns the vaccine may not prevent transmission, only infection — meaning people can still pass the virus on to other people despite being vaccinated — Le Gros says there's "no firm data".

"As a vaccine scientist, I can tell you [there's a] pretty good chance, 99% sure that the vaccines that we have underway, the way they work now will reduce significantly the ability of virus to replicate and transmit."

The Government has promised a thorough approvals process for the Pfizer vaccine, with the first shipment set to arrive in New Zealand before the end of March.

The vaccine rollout is expected to begin sometime in the second quarter of this year and the injections will be free for all New Zealanders.

Border workers and people in isolation facilities will be the first group vaccinated.

As well as the 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccine coming, the Government is covering all bases and pre-purchased more than 2.3 million doses of the Oxford University/Astrazeneca, Novavax and Janssen vaccines.