Govt poised to make changes as vaccinated workers stood down for not having Pfizer

Source: 1News

The Government is set to announce a change to the Border Order on Wednesday after some workers, including Air New Zealand pilots, have been stood down without pay for some weeks, after having alternative vaccines overseas.

Air New Zealand plane (file picture).

The order, otherwise known as the Covid-19 Public Health Response (vaccinations) Order 2021 has currently only mandated the Pfizer vaccine for border workers.

It's understood the announcement will come at Wednesday's 1pm media conference after the Ministry of Health u-turned on its stance, now amending the Border Order to recognise other vaccines for workers.

On October 9, the ministry told 1News that the Border Order will be amended in "the coming week". 

“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.”

According to the Order, Air New Zealand workers had to have their first injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine before the close of 30 September 2021 and their second dose no later than 35 days after their first injection.

Those who didn't comply, or received a different vaccine, were stood down despite some of those vaccines having Medsafe approval.

The Ministry of Health also said it recognises other vaccines for people who come through MIQ.

“This means those arriving from overseas via MIQ are considered vaccinated if they have had one dose of the Janssen vaccine," a ministry spokesperson said on October 5.

“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.”

In a statement to 1News on Tuesday October 19, Air New Zealand’s Chief Operating Officer, Carrie Hurihanganui says: “Out of around 1,400 Air New Zealand pilots, at this stage around three per cent have indicated they do not want to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

"A small number of pilots who fall under the Government’s border order have been unable to be rostered on to international duties until the Janssen vaccine is recognised in the order." 

The airline confirmed last week that some pilots have been stood down due to the Order.

“We have a handful of pilots who have been vaccinated with a vaccine not currently recognised by the Ministry of Health," Hurihanganui said. 

"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."

"As a personal choice, while on a tour of duty, a small number of our pilots arranged to receive the Janssen vaccine in the United States," Hurihanganui said on Tuesday.

“Air New Zealand has extended the requirement to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to almost 75 per cent of our workforce and we know a portion of employees covered by the mandate would welcome access to alternative vaccines. This would not only further assist the public health response but would help to protect people’s employment.”

After weeks of going without pay, it means the affected Air New Zealand pilots can soon return to flying, even though some of them have now had four vaccinations to comply with ministry regulations. 

Portfolio of vaccine options on the table

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," a Ministry of Health spokesperson says. 

“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.”