Change will make vaccination process easier

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Vaccinating southerners against Covid-19 became easier yesterday after a change of policy about the temperature at which the Pfizer vaccine must be stored.

Formerly, the vaccine had to be stored at -80degC but medicines regulator MedSafe, following advice from the vaccine manufacturer, has now approved it being stored at -20degC or thereabouts, for up to two weeks.

Previous guidelines were that the vaccine had to be used within five days of being taken out of ultra-low temperature storage, a requirement which was challenging for district health boards with large rural populations, such as the Southern District Health Board.

SDHB Covid-19 vaccine rollout incident controller Hamish Brown said the temperature change was good news.

"It will give us greater flexibility with our planning and means a more robust supply chain, which will become especially important as we move into vaccinating the general population."

Vaccination of border workers started in Otago and Southland in early March, followed by frontline health staff at the start of this month.

As of Tuesday, 602 people had received both doses of the vaccine, and 8176 had received their first dose.

Of New Zealand’s 20 DHBs, only four had delivered more first doses than Southern.

Nationally, 135,585 doses have been administered, and 30,194 people have received two injections.

Vaccination rates are expected to ramp up from May onwards as people classified as "group 3" - those aged over 65 and other people regarded as being at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 - are injected.

Group 4, the general population, should receive their vaccinations from July onwards.

Late yesterday, the Ministry of Health published its expectations of how many vaccinations DHBs would deliver weekly up until the end of June.

By that time, the SDHB is expected to have delivered just over 70,000 injections.

Its injection rate is planned to triple almost immediately, from 2020 last week to 6400 this week.

By mid-May it is expected that 5400 southerners will be being vaccinated each week, rising to 7200 weekly injections in June.

Last week, Mr Brown told the SDHB that recruitment of staff remained a serious issue for the vaccine rollout, although a group of newly trained staff who began work on Monday would help.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament yesterday the newly released vaccination figures were not a target but a forecast.

Mr Brown said the SDHB was "cautiously optimistic" about its ability to meet the ministry’s expectations.

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