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Covid 19 coronavirus: Health workers get early jabs to ensure expiring vaccinations don’t go to waste

Hundreds of medical staff have received Covid jabs today – a month earlier than they had been expecting – in order to use up expiring vaccinations.

The health workers, including doctors and nurses and many staff wearing Counties Manukau District Health Board uniforms, flocked to Waipuna Hotel today after a surprise email last night advising they could now be vaccinated.

“We were expecting it at the end of March,” one excited doctor who works for a private clinic told the Herald.

“It came through in an email last night. It just came as a surprise really.”

The GP said getting the vaccination earlier than expected was great news as he felt it was a case of ‘the sooner the better’ for frontline health workers.

New Zealand’s border and MIQ workers are meant to be the first people vaccinated but the Ministry of Health said they can’t all be freed up at once so healthcare workers have now been offered the jabs to make sure they are not wasted.

A spokesman said one of the logistical challenges of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine was once a dose reaches above -70 degrees it only has five days before it expires, even when it’s kept in a fridge.

“The vaccine is a precious commodity and its special properties present challenges different from our usual vaccines,” he said.

“Our goal is to make our vaccination process as efficient as possible to ensure the best use of the vaccine available.”

In Auckland that means when a batch of vaccine is a day away from expiry, employers at MIQ, the airport and ports are asked if any of their workforce can be made available to get their jab within the next 24 hours, in addition to the scheduled vaccinations that day.

The immunisation team also asks the local DHBs for a standby list of frontline healthcare workers – including hospital staff, primary care, and community testing centre workforce – who can be individually invited to fill any remaining vaccination appointments at short notice.

“This approach enables all Auckland DHBs to keep appointment slots open for border and MIQ workers as long as possible but to also minimise any potential wastage of the vaccine.”

In Christchurch the immunisation team has a standby list of people within the MIF or Port facility who can be called in at short notice.

In Wellington the teams are addressing the same issue by over-booking for the vaccine appointments and the DHB is also looking at generating a standby appointment system.

The Ministry of Health started rolling out the vaccinations earlier this month with the first people to get them being a group of 25 vaccinators before the official rollout began on the 20th for people who worked at the borders or in managed isolation and quarantine.

It was expected to take two to three weeks to vaccinate border workers including cleaners, nurses, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff, hotel workers and all of their household contacts.

Healthcare, essential workers and those most at risk were expected to follow in the second quarter of the year. The remaining general public vaccinations are expected to begin in the second half of 2021.

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