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NZ immunisation director assures border workers, public about safety of Covid-19 vaccine

The official rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has begun today across MIQ staff in Auckland.

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Dr Ashley Bloomfield says it's a milestone for the country.

A small group of 29 vaccinators were given their first vaccine yesterday as part of final preparations.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealand has reached “a key stage in its pandemic response”.

“Vaccination of our hard-working and dedicated border staff marks a significant step forward – a milestone that protects those at greatest risk of those getting the virus and helping reduce the risk of it spreading into our communities,” he said.

“Today we have kicked off the largest immunisation programme in our history by vaccinating the first of our border workforce, a critical step in protecting everyone in Aotearoa."

He said the programme would be rolled out in Wellington next Monday and Christchurch on Wednesday.

Following this, about 12,000 of New Zealand’s border and MIQ workers would be vaccinated “over the coming weeks,” Bloomfield said.

Members of those workers’ households would be in line next, with plans for the wider public rollout later in the year currently being finalised, he said.

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Managed isolation and quarantine staff were among those first in line as New Zealand's largest ever vaccination programme begins. Source: 1 NEWS

Director of New Zealand’s Immunisation Advisory Centre, Dr Nikki Turner, says she has faced questions over the past week from hundreds of border and MIQ staff over whether the vaccine will be effective.

“People keep saying this came too fast but the clinical steps in the development of this vaccine - New Zealand has waited appropriately until we have seen all the clinical trial data, right from the early stuff, through to the very large pivotal clinical trials which were on more than 40,000 people,” she said.

Turner says the clinical trials show it’s an incredibly high-performing vaccine.

“The effectiveness data is around 90-95 per cent which translates to be, that if you had 100 people given this vaccine, at least 90-95 of them when they were exposed to Covid, would not get symptomatic illness.”

Turner said because New Zealand wasn’t the first country to get the vaccine there has been time to wait for a few months to observe the real-world clinical data coming from around the world that the vaccine is “performing as it did in the clinical trials”.

She says all vaccines cause allergic reactions, but severe ones are extremely rare and “we will be prepared for that”.

Watch: First Covid-19 vaccinations administered in New Zealand

New Zealand’s Covid-19 immunisation programme is expected to take a full year, Bloomfield said.

The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, with a three-week break.