Vaccine u-turn to allow border workers' non-Pfizer jab recognised

Source: 1News

In a u-turn, the Ministry of Health is set to change the public health order for border workers so that if they have had a Covid vaccine other than Pfizer, it will be recognised.

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It comes as some border workers have been stood down from their roles after having had a different vaccine overseas, despite those vaccines having Medsafe approval.

On October 5 the ministry told 1News that “vaccine requirements differ for different purposes and in different settings and the requirements have not been confirmed for all settings.

“This applies to the Janssen vaccine among others,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.

1News understand some border workers in the marine and airline industry have been stood down from their roles and are not allowed to work until the legislation changes.

The ministry said the Janssen vaccine is a recognised vaccine for all those entering New Zealand through MIQ but isn’t recognised for border workers.

“This means those arriving from overseas via MIQ are considered vaccinated if they have had one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

“However, for those who work at the border, Pfizer is the only recognised vaccine to meet the current Border Order requirements. Work is underway to consider other vaccines, including Janssen, for this purpose.”

Some border workers report having four jabs to keep their jobs

A border worker 1News spoke to said some in the industry have elected to have the Pfizer vaccine once back in New Zealand, in addition to having had the Moderna vaccine offshore. 

The source, who wanted to remain anonymous, said border workers have had four jabs "just to avoid the situation of putting their jobs at risk".

In a u-turn, the ministry told 1News on October 9 that the Border Order will be amended to recognise other vaccines for workers.

“When the Vaccinations Order became law on 30 April 2021 Pfizer/BioNTech was the only Covid-19 vaccine to have received provisional approval by Medsafe. It was named in the Order as the vaccine border workers covered by the Order were required to receive in order to be compliant. An amendment to the legislation is required to have other vaccines recognised for border work subject to the Order,” a ministry spokesperson said.

“The Covid-19 Response Minister has agreed a move in policy to allow those falling within the requirements of the Order to be vaccinated with a vaccine other than Pfizer. The Ministry of Health is in the process of making necessary amendments to the current Order for Ministers to consider and approve in the coming week.”

Air New Zealand confirmed to 1News on Tuesday that some pilots have been stood down amid the officialism.

“We have a handful of pilots who have been vaccinated with a vaccine not currently recognised by the Ministry of Health," said Air New Zealand Chief Operations Officer, Carrie Hurihanganui.

"Air New Zealand recognises these pilots as being fully vaccinated and have been in urgent talks with the Government over an exemption or change in the order to allow these pilots to continue operating. While we await confirmation, these pilots are not flying.”

Captain Andrew Ridling, President of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) told 1News NZALPA met with Transport Minister Michael Wood early last week, "which included discussions on this urgent issue".

He said the issue also affected New Zealand pilots based overseas.

"When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit Aotearoa New Zealand, a number of pilots took leave without pay and to find employment offshore. While there, many of those received vaccinations that were secured by different countries.

"This included pilots receiving AstraZeneca jabs in Australia, and Moderna and Janssen vaccines in the USA and Europe.

"The Minister of Transport was aware of the issue across his portfolio and undertook to discuss the wider issue with the Covid-19 Response Minister. It was pleasing to see that there was some flexibility in policy with the changes that we have been signalled.

"Without these changes to the order, pilots’ employment is being placed in jeopardy."

The ministry says New Zealand has a “portfolio of vaccine options” with four suppliers: Pfizer, Janssen, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

“Any vaccine used in New Zealand must be approved by Medsafe. The Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines have received provisional approval.

“Medsafe approval is the first step in the process.

“While no decisions have been made to date about the use of the AstraZeneca or Janssen Covid-19 vaccines in New Zealand, we recognise that there may be merit in providing a different vaccine for those individuals unable to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

The Ministry says it’s working closely with Janssen to confirm delivery schedules, it will then be in a position to consider the use of the Janssen vaccine in New Zealand.

It donated the first tranche of AstraZeneca vaccines to the COVAK Facility for low income countries. 

“The Novavax vaccine has not received Medsafe approval. Novavax have started to submit an application to Medsafe.”

New Zealand has access to 10.85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in 2021, according to the ministry.

“We are working with the three pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Janssen) to confirm delivery schedules within the context of significant global demand and constrained supply.”