Vaccine study aims to monitor people with increased risk from Covid

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Getty Images
Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Getty Images
A clinical study in Christchurch and Rotorua will aim to provide valuable information on how the population responds to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

The study - called Ka Mātau, Ka Ora, which means with knowledge comes wellbeing - will seek to enrol at least 300 adult participants with a focus on Māori, Pasifika, adults 65 years old and older, and those with co-morbidities associated with increased risk of Covid-19.

Led by Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand or VAANZ, it would assess immune responses for up to 12 months after the last vaccine dose to inform the national Covid-19 strategy and ultimately enhance vaccine effectiveness and confidence.

Malaghan Institute VAANZ clinical director Dr Fran Priddy said while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had demonstrated efficacy and safety in clinical trials and real-world studies, it had not yet been studied in New Zealand.

"When you study vaccines in order to make sure there's no safety concerns, you also look to see if they're immunogenic; do they stimulate a good immune response or the right kind of immune response in the body and then testing vaccines for development is to see do they prevent disease or infection actually."

Dr Priddy said because New Zealand had not had a drastic Covid-19 outbreak recently, it was not possible to do studies to see if it prevented disease in the country.

So, she said, they were using studies done abroad.

"We don't need to do that big study here, but we would like to confirm that the immune responses, which is responsible for protecting you, are what we would expect in New Zealand and see if there's any differences among groups here that may need to be addressed."

The groups she is referring to include Māori, Pasifika, adults 65 years old and older. She these groups were known to have higher rates of co-morbidities as well as worse outcomes with Covid-19.

"It's important to show that the vaccine is adequately immunogenic - gives a good immune response - to those groups because those are the groups that need the protection the most, they're higher risk for having hospitalisation."

Ministry of Health Covid-19 Pacific response team member Dr Api Talemaitoga said the uptake of vaccine was slow in South Auckland and, for Pasifika people, it was because of competing priorities.

"I know that my patients in South Auckland are not sitting around waiting for an appointment to see me. They're waiting for when the car is available, the one car that is used by five family members or when someone is able to drive them, so we just need to be more flexible."

Clinical Immunologist Dr Maia Brewerton, who is on the Malaghan Institute's Te Urungi Māori advisory board, said Aotearoa was in an enviable position due to our elimination strategy.

She said the study offered a useful alternative approach to assess the vaccine response in our people.

"Māori and Pasifika have a greater burden of conditions like heart disease associated with more severe Covid-19 disease, however even after we account for these conditions, Māori and Pasifika are still at increased risk of developing severe disease.

"We know there is more to learn and this research is important to help identify and understand any differences in the immune response."

Dr Priddy said they were confident in the vaccines, and the study was to confirm what the immune response was for each population, which then would help fine-tune the vaccine strategy.

 

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