Ahead of the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand, a vaccinologist warns misinformation about vaccines could derail efforts.
Speaking on TVNZ1’s Q+A this morning, former director of the World Health Organization’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said misinformation is “going to be a challenge” as doses of the vaccine start to become available as early as the end of this year or the start of 2021.
“It’s a concern…that has the capacity to derail a lot of efforts,” she said.
“While we’re putting a lot of effort in how we might deliver this thing, we’ve also got to put just as much effort into managing that situation and trying to make sure people get good information - getting it first is going to be really important.”
Petousis-Harris said gaining the public’s trust by being transparent and informing people about the regulatory process behind approving a vaccine could help combat hesitancy.
“It’s about communication.”
She said she would personally be happy to get the vaccine once it was approved.
The Government has agreed to buy vaccines from Pfizer and Janssen, subject to the jab successfully completing clinical trials and passing necessary approvals in New Zealand.
The Government has agreed to purchase 5 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Janssen, and 1.5 million doses of Pfizer's, which requires a double dose.
Petousis-Harris said people shouldn’t be concerned about how quickly the Covid-19 vaccine had been developed because modern technology allowed for faster manufacturing and production compared to previous vaccines.
She said a number of “huge obstacles” that vaccine developers usually faced, like finding enough people who were willing to participate in trials, weren’t an issue this time around.
“A year’s a reasonable amount of time when you’re putting enormous amounts of money into it - cutting down some of those barriers you might normally have.”
Global cooperation and the prevalence of Covid-19 also made it easier to study and develop a vaccine, she said.
Petousis-Harris was optimistic that the Pfizer and Janssen vaccines would pass regulatory processes.
But, it didn’t mean things would immediately return back to the way they were before the pandemic, she said.
“Not overnight, this is going to take a little bit of time. There’s a lot of people to vaccinate, and there’s a lot of logistics involved in that.”
Some return to a semblance of normal could take most of 2021, Petousis-Harris said.
What's harder to predict, Petousis-Harris said, is when New Zealand’s borders may be open again because the country has to wait and see what is happening overseas and how other countries were handling Covid-19.
Petousis-Harris said, in the meantime, other measures like masks and social distancing “need to be used hand in hand with the vaccine” as the rollout began, because the virus would be around for some time yet.
“We’re probably going to see more of these [pandemics]. Hopefully we’re going to be better prepared next time.”