Who can't have the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has an excellent safety profile and there are only a handful of people in Aotearoa who cannot receive it. The list of reasons why the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may not be suitable is short:

Before the first dose: 

  • History of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to an ingredient of the vaccine. This is very rare, and only applies to previous anaphylaxis to a stabiliser in the vaccine called polyethylene glycol (PEG). However, this is often unclear as problems with PEG most commonly occur after having it by mouth and there may not be any problem with having it in a vaccine. Cases like this require expert assessment by an immunology specialist. 

After problems with the first dose: 

  • People who had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after the first dose – this typically occurs within 15 minutes of receiving it and is the main reason for waiting after vaccination. Even when suspected anaphylaxis has occurred after the first dose, increasing experience now shows that many people can be revaccinated safely in a specialist immunology clinic setting.
  • Those who had myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart) after their first dose of this vaccine. Myocarditis or pericarditis after the vaccine is rare. Diagnosis requires special tests and often assessment by a heart specialist. 

Find more information about who can't have the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine here.

Medical appointments and treatment planning with vaccination

Some people experience swollen lymph nodes in their armpit and neck after vaccination. This is where the immune response is taking place and is expected. Swollen lymph nodes are also detected by screening tests for cancers, so it is important to inform your radiographers or oncologist if you have been vaccinated recently.

Some treatments can reduce your immune response to the vaccine. You may like to discuss the timing of your COVID-19 vaccination with your specialist to try to time it between treatments to provide the best possible protection. It is important not to delay treatments or avoid vaccinations.

Can COVID-19 vaccines be safely given to frail and elderly people?

There are no safety concerns around giving COVID-19 vaccine to older and frail adults. Multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates have shown to protect against severe disease in older age groups. A guidance statement has been produced.

Guidance statement for COVID-19 vaccination of frail elderly 
Guidance has been prepared to clarify the use of the COVID-19 vaccination for the frail elderly.
In general, it is recommended that all eligible adults, including the frail and elderly with comorbidities are offered vaccination against COVID-19, if there are no contraindications to its administration, to provide protection for the individual as well as their community.
As with all clinical interventions, there needs to be an individual risk/benefit appraisal and shared decision making between clients, whanau, surrogate decision makers, and clinicians on the individual and collective benefits and risk of COVID-19 vaccination. For frail elderly people with a prognosis of a short number of weeks (including those in terminal decline or on an end of life care pathway) the individual risk/benefit appraisal will be particularly important.
 

A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine substantially reduced (over 70%) the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalisation in elderly, frail patients with extensive co-existing conditions in the UK. By 2 weeks after the second dose effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 in adults aged over 70 years was 85-93%. This is important, as increasing age is a risk factor for severe COVID-19.

Following reports of deaths of frail, elderly adults in residential care facilities after COVID-19 vaccination, independent reviews by both the CDC and the WHO concluded that the mortality rate in this population is typically high and a substantial number of deaths will occur coincidentally following vaccination. For further information, click here.

When vaccinating an elderly person who has an intercurrent or comorbid condition, it is wise to ensure they are stabilised or as well as possible before they have the vaccine. Following vaccination ensure good hydration and careful management of potential systemic adverse events, such as fever. It is advisable for them to be with someone else for 24 hours after receipt of the vaccine to help manage such adverse events.

Can I have a COVID-19 vaccination before a CT scan?

It is important to advise your oncologist or radiographer if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine recently. This is because the vaccine can cause the lymph nodes in your armpit and neck to swell which can be detected by CT scans used to diagnose and monitor cancers.

This is particularly detected by FDG PET/CT scans, in which you are given a contrast medium containing a type of radioactive sugar that is taken up by active cells. When an immune response to a vaccine takes place, the cells in the lymph nodes near the injection site become very active and take up a lot of this sugar. Depending on the type of cancer, you may be able to request the injection on the opposite side to your tumour. If possible, have the vaccination at least 2 weeks before a scheduled scan or as soon as you can afterwards. Do not delay any treatment.

People with compromised immune systems or receiving treatment for cancer

Many people take medication that suppresses their immune system, especially for the treatment of cancer, severe asthma, autoimmune diseases, or following organ transplantation. Others have medical conditions that can affect the immune system, such as HIV infection or kidney failure.

These conditions put you at increased risk from COVID-19, and although you may not respond as strongly to the vaccine as someone with a fully functioning immune system, it is safe for you to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and it will provide some protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe, life-threatening disease.

It is important and safe for those receiving active treatment with immunosuppressive medications to have the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are severely immunocompromised, it is recommended to talk to your GP or specialist to discuss the optimal timing for vaccination before the vaccine appointment. Ideally, vaccination should be conducted prior to any planned immunosuppression.

It is also important for the people around you, in your household, to have the vaccine when it is offered to them to widen your protection.

For information about Cancer care and COVID-19 vaccine see Te Aho o Te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency) information here.

If the person has had a dose of COVID-19 vaccine overseas

If you were partially vaccinated overseas with one dose of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine, you will need to have another dose 6 weeks after your previous dose (or at least 3 weeks if you are at high risk of exposure to individuals with COVID-19). There is no maximum time limit between doses, so you do not need to repeat the first dose or receive a third dose.

Although, different COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable, it is recommended that if you have received one dose of any two-dose COVID-19 vaccine (including Vaxzevria/Covishield/AstraZeneca, or Spikevax/Moderna) outside of New Zealand that you have one dose of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) at least 4 weeks after the first vaccine dose.

If you received one dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen, you are considered fully immunised, however, in certain groups (such as border workers) at high risk of exposure to people infected with COVID-19 virus, may be advised to have a further dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Likewise, for those who have received two doses of Sinopharm or Sinovac overseas, a further dose of mRNA-CV may be recommended.

Is the Comirnaty vaccine safe and effective for people living with HIV?

The vaccine has been through rigorous testing to ensure safety and efficacy and is now being used widely overseas without any serious concerns appearing. People with HIV were included in clinical trials though efficacy and safety data specific to this group are not yet available.

With some vaccines people living with HIV can produce a weaker immune response. People living with HIV are encouraged to be vaccinated. People with HIV were included in clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine, although the data specific to this group is not yet available there are no safety concerns.

Based on what we know about people living with HIV and their response to other vaccines:

  • those with a suppressed viral load are likely to have some protection from the COVID-19 vaccine
  • they may have a weaker response to some vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine

For people who are newly diagnosed and starting HIV treatment are advised to take advice from their specialist about the timing of their vaccination. Any medication being taken for HIV is not expected to change how effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine will not affect HIV medications.​

Will children receive a COVID-19 vaccination?

Youth aged 12-15 years are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand.

Following Medsafe’s approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 12-15 year olds, the Government has now extended eligibility of the COVID-19 vaccination programme to include this age group.

Taking a whānau-centred approach, as parents become eligible to book in for a vaccination they will now also have the option to book their children aged 12 – 15 years to be vaccinated at the same time.

Consistent with the National Immunisation Schedule, IMAC recommends that a parent or guardian is present to provide verbal co-consent as best practice - particularly in a mass vaccination setting. While children aged 12 and up can legally give their own consent, the preference is that this should be the exception and not the rule.

Please note: until otherwise advised COVID-19 vaccinators working under supervision should only administer the COVID-19 vaccine to people 16 and over.

The safety and efficacy of mRNA-CV has not yet been established for use in those aged younger than 12 years. A clinical trial is ongoing in younger age groups. 

Other resources:

Reference:
Frenck, R. W., Klein, N. P., Kitchin, N., Gurtman, A., Absalon, J., Lockhart, S., . . . Gruber, W. C. (2021). Safety, Immunogenicity, and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 Covid-19 Vaccine in Adolescents. New England Journal of Medicine 10.1056/NEJMoa2107456
 

Can a person who is currently sick with COVID-19 receive a vaccine?

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.

If you had COVID-19 and recovered, will you still be able to or need to get the vaccine?

Vaccination is being offered to people who have and have not had SARS-CoV-2 infection previously.

Data from clinical trials and from countries with a lot of COVID-19 cases have shown the vaccines to be safe and effective in this group of people. It is expected that the vaccine will boost the immune response and provide good protection for those who have previously had SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

Due to variability in immune response in people who have had a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection (with or without symptoms), an individual is considered fully immunised only after two doses of mRNA-CV (or another COVID-19 vaccine overseas, see FAQ) given at least 42 days apart. It is recommended to start vaccination from 4 weeks after recovery, or from the first confirmed COVID-19 positive PCR test if asymptomatic, and when cleared to leave isolation by a clinician.

COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy and breastfeeding

Pregnant people are encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at any stage of pregnancy.

In pregnancy, the risk of severe COVID-19 complications is much higher than in people of the same age who are not pregnant. Data from the UK found that one in four pregnant women hospitalised with COVID-19 had pneumonia and one in five required support with breathing. Older mothers-to-be and those with other health conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes or obesity are at even higher risk from COVID-19. The recommendation to be vaccinated aligns with those in other countries and is based on international evidence from a large number of people who have already received mRNA COVID vaccines when pregnant. No additional safety concerns have been shown. There is also increasing evidence that antibodies made by the mother after vaccination are shared with her infant.

As with all vaccines on the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule, there are no safety concerns about giving mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to women who are breastfeeding and by being vaccinated, mothers can provide some protection against COVID-19 for their babies in breastmilk.

Please refer to the Immunisation Advisory Centre's COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy fact sheet for more information.

Also see this University of Auckland video giving positive recommendations from health professionals.

References

  • Shimabukuro TT, Kim SY, Myers TR, et al. Preliminary Findings of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons. N Engl J Med. 2021 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa21049
  • Vousden N, Ramakrishnan R, Bunch K, et al (2021 preprint). Impact of SARS-CoV-2 variant on the severity of maternal infection and perinatal outcomes: Data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System national cohort. medRxiv, 2021.2007.2022.21261000. 10.1101/2021.07.22.21261000