Around 40 border workers from Christchurch Airport have been vaccinated today at a community testing centre as the COVID-19 immunisation programme starts rolling out in the South Island.
They included a range of people, including aviation security workers, cleaners, police, customs workers and health protection officers who screen passengers arriving on international flights.
“Yesterday, 35 of the Canterbury-based vaccination team gave and received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to prepare for today’s rollout,” the Ministry of Health said today.
About 20% of New Zealand’s approximately 12,000 border and Managed Isolation & Quarantine (MIQ) workers are based in Canterbury.
“These people play a critical role at the frontline of our continued efforts to keep the virus out of our communities and we’re very grateful for their commitment and hard work. They’re the most at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and it is important that we prioritise their protection,” COVID-19 Vaccine Immunisation Programme Clinical Lead, Dr Joe Bourne said.
Canterbury DHB clinician, Dr Alan Pithie, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases and General Medicine, said the rollout of the immunisation programme in Canterbury was an important milestone in the fight against COVID-19.
“Our staff are putting in a huge amount of work to provide those at the border in Canterbury with the best protection against COVID-19,” Dr Pithie said.
“This is just the start of the vaccination rollout and we are confident that the system we have created is robust and efficient. We are really proud of our team, this is obviously a new situation for everyone, but it is incredibly important that we complete this first phase as quickly as possible.”
The vaccines were transported in special containers to the South Island after being collected from the ultra-low temperature (ULT) storage facility in Auckland.
Health Protection Officer, Debbie Smith said she was relieved to get vaccinated today against COVID-19.
“It’s another level of armour and I feel like a superhero on the inside now. Working on the frontline, you tend to live your life differently. There have been events I’ve thought twice about going to because of the potential risk I pose and that’s where the vaccination is going to let me live my life a little bit more normally, I hope,” Ms Smith said.
Her colleague and fellow Health Protection Officer, Jimmy Wong, said getting vaccinated was a huge relief because it meant greater protection for his family.
“I’ve got a three-month-old baby at the moment and it’s very important to me to do what I can to protect myself and to protect my family,” he said.
Both have worked at Christchurch International Airport since 26 January last year and one of their key roles is health screening people returning to New Zealand on international flights, which puts them in close contact with people potentially with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a second batch of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines arrived at Auckland International Airport, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.
“This shipment contained about 76,000 doses, and follows our first shipment of 60,000 doses that arrived last week. We expect further shipments of vaccine over the coming weeks,” Mr Hipkins said.
He said that as with the first shipment, quality assurance and checks by Medsafe were now underway.
“By the end of March, we’re due to receive a total of about 450,000 doses – enough to vaccinate 225,000 people with a two-dose course.”
“The Ministry of Health is working with Pfizer/BioNTech to develop a delivery schedule for the vaccines that ensures a smooth rollout and scaling up of our immunisation programme as we rollout to the general public in mid-year.
“We started our immunisation programme to around 12,000 border and managed isolation and quarantine workers last Saturday, and once completed, we’ll begin vaccinating their household contacts,” Mr Hipkins said.