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COVID-19 vaccines

New Zealand is developing a COVID-19 vaccine programme, to start in 2021.

The frequently asked questions and resources below aim to provide some initial information. As the situation is changing daily, we will keep this page as up to date as we can. Note the date of last changes is at the bottom of the page.

COVID-19 vaccines: Frequently asked questions

General

Are COVID-19 vaccines going to be compulsory in New Zealand?

No. The New Zealand Government has stated that COVID-19 vaccination WILL NOT be compulsory. 

Which COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be available for New Zealanders?

There are currently no licensed COVID-19 vaccines available in New Zealand although a lot of work is going on to procure safe and effective vaccines. As of December 2020, the New Zealand Government has Advanced Purchasing Agreements (APA) with Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Novavax. This means there is an arrangement to buy a preplanned number of doses of vaccines from these companies if their vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. Also, as part of a global collaboration called COVAX, New Zealand will have access to additional vaccines. For more information about COVAX, please click here.

When are COVID-19 vaccines going to be available in New Zealand?

The exact date when vaccines will be available in New Zealand has not been finalised. It depends on a) when the vaccine can arrive in New Zealand and b) when the final data is available for Medsafe to review ahead of licensure. To obtain approval for use in New Zealand, each vaccine needs to meet strictly defined safety and efficacy criteria.

Who will be first in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Vaccine Strategy includes a priority schedule for COVID-19 vaccines. This aims to make sure those who are at highest risk of exposure are vaccinated first, followed by those at highest risk of severe disease. The Ministry of Health has recently released the planned order of the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines. For more information, please click here.

Will we still need other COVID-19 prevention measures such as social distancing if a COVID-19 vaccine is available?

As all New Zealanders will not be able to be vaccinated at once, other public health measures including contact tracing and managing cluster outbreaks will still be needed for some time. It is anticipated with an effective vaccine programme, these control measures will be able to be reduced, albeit slowly. This will rely on many people being willing to be immunised.

What types of vaccines are researchers developing?

Multiple different types of vaccines are being developed around the world. Some of these are using technologies New Zealand already has licensed vaccines for, like protein subunit candidates; however, others are using new technologies such as mRNA vaccines. For further information on the types of vaccines that are being developed, please click here.

If you had the virus and recovered, will you still be able to or need to get the vaccine?

Internationally, vaccination is being offered to people who have previously had SARS-CoV-2 infection. Data from clinical trials thus far has shown the vaccine is still effective in this group of people. New Zealand specific advice will be available upon licensure of a vaccine. For more information, please click here.

If a person is vaccinated against COVID-19, will they still be able to spread the virus to susceptible people?

This depends on whether the vaccine only stops people from developing moderate/severe illness or can stop all infection, including asymptomatic (i.e. showing no symptoms) infection. If the vaccine prevents severe but not mild (or asymptomatic) infection, then that person is protected from becoming seriously unwell, however could still spread the virus. This highlights the importance of continuing to follow public health advice such as hand washing and isolating if unwell, even post vaccination. For more information, please click here.

If more than one vaccine becomes available, could taking two different vaccines boost the effectiveness?

We do not know the answer to this yet as it is still being investigated in clinical trials. For more information, please click here.

Will booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine be needed?

Not enough time has passed since first vaccinations were given to be able to answer this question. People enrolled in clinical trials are being followed up closely, which will allow this question to be answered in due course. For more information, please click here.

How long will COVID-19 vaccine immunity (i.e. protection from the COVID-19 disease) last?

This is an important question that directly links back to how often a COVID-19 vaccine may be needed. It is too early to know how long the protection given by the COVID-19 vaccine may last. This is one of the questions that will be studied in the follow-up period of the clinical trials. It is possible the length of immunity may differ between vaccines. Please click here, for more information.

Can we give a COVID-19 vaccine to a person who is sick with COVID-19?

Internationally, guidance states that people who are currently isolating or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should not be vaccinated until they have recovered and met the criteria to stop isolating.New Zealand specific information will be available upon licensure of a vaccine in New Zealand.

Am I able to privately purchase a COVID-19 vaccine before I travel?

COVID-19 vaccines will be allocated according to a prioritisation schedule and will be available free of charge. This means is will not be possible to purchase a vaccine to be given early.

Is the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inferior to other COVID-19 vaccine candidates?

There has been recent media coverage suggesting the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine candidate is inferior when compared to other COVID-19 vaccines. Looking beyond media headlines, the evidence available thus far does not support this. This is because it is not straight forward to compare vaccine candidates due to differences in the way the clinical trials are conducted and analysed. For example, the number and severity of COVID-19 cases in the trials are different so making direct efficacy comparisons is problematic. Professor Peter McIntyre has written a great summary on this matter available here.

Can COVID-19 vaccines be given with other vaccines?

There will need to be a two week gap between the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and influenza vaccines. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine two dose schedule should take priority over flu vaccines (i.e. patients should receive the full two dose schedule and then wait two weeks before receiving a flu vaccine). There should be a four week gap between Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and all other vaccines.

Can you tell me more about genetically modified organisms and vaccines? 

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are defined in section 2 of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996. Under section 2A, genetically modified organisms are defined as new organisms. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), if requested, can formally determine if a vaccine is, or contains, a new organism. There is a medicines-specific rapid approval pathway for any vaccines that are - or that contain - new organisms, which includes genetically modified organisms. No formal applications have yet been lodged for consideration by the EPA. We already have a genetically modified vaccine available in New Zealand for Japanese encephalitis. For more details on the application process click here. Thanks to Dr Chris Hill, EPA general manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms for this answer.

Safety

Will COVID-19 vaccines be safe?

COVID-19 vaccines are being held to the same safety standards as all vaccines. New Zealand will not be approving COVID-19 vaccines for use until they have reviewed sufficient data on both safety and on how well the vaccine works (efficacy). Internationally, tens of thousands of participants were enrolled in each Phase 3 trial and mass vaccination campaigns involving millions of people are currently underway. Safety information on those who have been vaccinated is being closely monitored. All clinical trials involved an independent safety monitoring committee. These vaccines may have been produced quickly (see more below) however we can be confident that no shortcuts with regards to safety have been taken.

Is it true that they are skipping steps to make a vaccine more quickly?

No. It is true that COVID-19 vaccines have been produced faster than previous vaccines, but this is not because steps are being skipped. Instead, a combination of increased funding, international collaboration and removing some of things that usually slow progress (i.e. doing some of the processes at the same time) has sped up progress. Further information on this topic is available here.

Can mRNA vaccines change the DNA of a person?

No. RNA vaccines do not interact with a person’s genome as our genetic material is contained within the nucleus of our cells and mRNA cannot enter this area. Following injection with an mRNA vaccine, the mRNA is taken up locally by cells where the instructions to produce the immune system stimulant are followed. At this point, the RNA is broken down, ready to be recycled. For more information on RNA and DNA vaccines, please click here.

 

Manufacturing/vaccine content

What are the ingredients of COVID-19 vaccines that will be available in New Zealand?

The vaccine ingredients will depend on the type of vaccine. As vaccines are approved for use, the contents and presentation of each vaccine will be published by Medsafe as a data sheet and consumer medicine information. This is part of the information that companies submit during the approval process. See below vaccine ingredients from two vaccine candidates which are being used in COVID-19 vaccination programmes internationally.

Pfizer/BioNTech

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine candidate (BNT162b2) contents include:

  • Active ingredient
    • 30µg of a nucleoside modified messenger RNA encoding the viral spike (S) glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2
  • Fats (these ingredients make up the lipid nanoparticle which is the transport mechanism for the active ingredient to make it inside a cell without being broken down)
    • 0.43 mg (4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate)
    • 0.05 mg 2[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide
    • 0.09 mg 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine
    • 0.2 mg cholesterol
  • Salts (these ingredients help ensure the vaccine pH is close to that of human cells)
    • 0.01 mg potassium chloride
    • 0.01 mg monobasic potassium phosphate
    • 0.36 mg sodium chloride
    • 0.07 mg dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate
  • Sugar (this ingredient protects the lipid nanoparticle at the very cold temperatures (-80 degrees C that the vaccine is stored at)
    • 6mg sucrose

AstraZeneca/Oxford

  • Active ingredient
    • Recombinant, replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus vector encoding the SARS‑CoV‑2 Spike (S) glycoprotein.
  • It also contains:
    • L-Histidine
    • L-Histidine hydrochloride monohydrate
    • Magnesium chloride hexahydrate
    • Polysorbate 80
    • Ethanol
    • Sucrose
    • Sodium chloride
    • Disodium edetate dihydrate
    • Water for injections
  • The vaccine does not contain preservative and it does not contain any components of animal origin.

 

Do COVID-19 vaccines contain fetal cells?

Human cell lines are sometimes used in vaccine manufacturing as this is known to be a safe and efficient way to produce vaccines. Both the Janssen and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine candidates have done so. NO cells from the manufacturing process remain in the vaccine because purification removes all the cell culture material. The Catholic Church has issued a formal statement saying it is ‘morally acceptable’ to take vaccines that use cell lines from aborted foetuses. For further information on fetal cells and COVID19 vaccines, click here.

 

Licensure

How are vaccines authorised in New Zealand?

All medicines approved for use in New Zealand, including vaccines, need to go through strict review by Medsafe to make sure they meet local and international safety and efficacy guidelines. Once Medsafe have reviewed all available data, they will make a recommendation to the NZ Government as to whether a medicine should be granted approval in NZ. More comprehensive information on this process is available on Medsafe’s website.

 

COVID-19 vaccines in special groups

COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy and breast feeding

Internationally, a pregnant or lactating person may choose to be vaccinated after considering the risks and benefits and/or consulting with a healthcare professional. There is currently only limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy and lactation. When deciding, the following points should be considered: risk of being exposed to COVID-19; risks of COVID19 to the patient and the foetus; efficacy of the vaccine; side effects of the vaccine; data available on COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy/lactation. As part of the vaccine approval process in New Zealand, Medsafe will issue guidance around COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy.

COVID-19 vaccines in older age groups

This is important as we know increasing age is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. Current evidence suggests that there are multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates which look to be promising in older age groups. For further information, click here.

 

Recommended resources

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance

Canadian Vaccination and Evidence Resource and Exchange Centre

Last updated: Jan 2021