Doubts over booster protection from Queenstown provider

The Southern District Health Board is contacting 1571 people from around New Zealand who may have been affected by a storage issue with the Covid-19 vaccine administered by Queenstown provider Engage Safety.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming did not name the provider during a press conference this afternoon, but said they would issue a release naming them later in the day.

Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files
Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files

An hour later, Engage Safety owner and registered nurse Debbie Swain-Rewi acknowledged that her company was the provider involved with the issue, which she said had been identified after an SDHB audit.

"I hope everyone affected makes sure they get another vaccine to have the best protection possible,'' she said.

"I want to say how very sorry I am for the inconvenience and upset caused to all the people affected by this.''

SDHB medical officer of health Susan Jack said the problem posed no potential health problems to the people who received them but which might mean they provided a lower level of protection than the recipients expected.

People affected by the issue received their shots in various locations in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago between December 1 and January 28.

This group of people was encouraged to receive a replacement vaccination to ensure they benefitted from a high level of immunity against Covid-19.

Mr Fleming said that the vast majority of affected people were Queenstown-Lakes residents, but a small number of people elsewhere in New Zealand were also believed to have been caught up in the situation.

"The area affected is predominantly Kingston, Glenorchy, up to Wanaka and across to Cromwell, but we do acknowledge that there are a small number of people who will have received vaccinations during the relevant times who did not live in those geographic areas, and we will be contacting each and every one of those.’’

Mr Fleming did not specify where those people lived, but said they were a small number and that some were believed to live in Auckland.

Dr Jack said most of the affected vaccinations were boosters, but some affected people had received primary and secondary doses.

"The vaccinations are unlikely to be effective... we have cross-matched recipients with the affected vaccine batches and we are currently contacting everyone.’’


There are 165 active cases in Central Otago. Queenstown-Lakes is one of the main Covid hotspots in the current Omicron outbreak, and as of last Thursday night there were 1226 active cases there.

Mr Fleming said the problem was an "isolated incident", and the vaccine provider had stopped providing vaccinations until a full investigation had been completed.

"The SDHB recognises the inconvenience and anxiety it may cause for the affected individuals," he said.

"We sincerely apologise to those people who have been impacted by this incident, and also to their whanau.

"The processes that have been highlighted by this issue enables us to ensure all of our vaccinated population have the most effective protection possible.”

Mr Fleming said temperature issues with vaccine storage could happen at any point between the manufacture of the medicine and its administration.

"There are robust requirements in place to ensure that vaccine is stored correctly and that issues are identified quickly, and any impact is minimised."

The DHB pledged to contact all affected people within the next three working days and offer detailed advice about what they should do.

Anyone with concerns would be able to have a fully-funded consultation with a GP, Mr Fleming said.

Dr Jack stressed that no-one affected was at risk of harm.

"However, in these circumstances the vaccine is not considered to be potent nor to produce a reliable level of immunity."

The Covid-19 booster is regarded as one of the most effective public health measures to both limit the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the disease and also reduce the severity of its impact.

"This group of people are encouraged to receive a replacement vaccination to ensure that they benefit from a high level of immunity against Covid-19," Dr Jack said.

January 28 was the last known date when there was a temperature breach, she said.

"Outside of that time we are confident that the vaccine is valid.’’

Mr Fleming confirmed that the investigation into the incident would be an independent one, but said who would do it and their terms of reference would not be confirmed until after the work to contact all affected people had been done.

Cold chain issue

Queenstown Medical Centre (QMC) chief executive Ashley Light said the issue within the cold chain process ‘‘is not, and it never has been, an issue with the GP practices’’ in the Queenstown-Lakes.

Mr Light said at QMC vaccines were delivered within a refrigerated unit, within a temperature range by courier, and were moved very quickly from the transport to fridges on site. Those were electronically monitored.

‘‘They talk to apps on phones, so you’ve got a 24-hour regulatory view on the fridges,’’ he said.

Once vaccines were removed from the fridge, there was a lifespan before they became unusable.

‘‘I don’t know how this provider was monitoring their cold chain and I don’t know if it was an issue with their fridges, or the cold chain, or a number of those vaccines have maybe just been taken out too early and not used within the timeframe... I don’t know the details of what happened to their cold chain.’’

QMC would increase vaccination capacity, if required. However, Mr Light was confident that, given the number of partner community providers0 including pharmacies, there was sufficient capacity within the network to handle re-vaccination of the 1500 people affected.

Mayor encourages extra jab

Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult said while it was "unfortunate" and meant there would be a "high degree of anxiety" for the people involved, he was grateful the Southern DHB had been up front and was taking responsibility for it.

"We’re pleased they’ve acted in the manner they have."

Mr Boult said he was sympathetic to the anxiety those people who had received vaccines from the provider - not linked to a GP practice - would be feeling.

"I would encourage them to go and be re-vaccinated without delay for their own and for the community’s benefit."

The Ministry of Health announced 17,522 new community cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, 506 of them being in Otago and Southland.

There are 6086 active cases of Covid-19 in Southern, and five people have been hospitalised.

*FAQs and advice for people affected are also available on the Southern Health website.