How many doses of COVID-19 vaccine should I have? I already received a COVID-19 vaccination overseas.

If you were partially vaccinated overseas with one dose of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine, you will need to have another dose at least 21 days after your previous dose. There is no maximum time limit between doses, so you do not need to repeat the first dose or receive a third dose.

If you received one dose of different vaccine (for example, COVID-19 vaccine AstraZenaca/Vaxzevria/Covishield or the Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine), the current recommendation is to have one dose of the Comirnaty vaccine when it becomes available for your priority group at least 4 weeks after your first vaccine. These vaccines are not interchangeable, but you are likely to have a good response to just one dose. If you received one dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered fully immunised and do not require any further doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I delay receiving my second dose of Comirnaty?

It is recommended to have the second dose of Comirnaty™ at least 21 days after the first dose. A delay for longer than 21 days is not considered to be a problem in terms of how you will respond to the second dose.

It is not yet known, for how long the first dose provides protection. If you are at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, it is advisable to have the second dose when recommended. During clinical trials, the vaccine efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 between the first and second doses was around 50% compared with 90% within 2 days of the second dose increasing to 95% after a week. Recent real-world data has shown that protected against SARS-CoV-2 infection was around 62 to 91% from 14 days after dose one and 68 to 97 % from 14 days after dose two in frontline workers. 

How are COVID-19 vaccines authorised in New Zealand?

All medicines approved for use in New Zealand, including vaccines, go through strict review by Medsafe to make sure they meet local and international safety and efficacy guidelines.

Once Medsafe has reviewed all available data, it makes a recommendation to the NZ Government as to whether a medicine can be granted approval in New Zealand. More comprehensive information on this process is available on the Medsafe website.

Vaccinations against COVID-19 using the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty™ (from Pfizer/BioNTech)  have begun. Currently, vaccinations are being given to those at highest risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and their close household contacts. There will be sufficient doses of this vaccine for everyone in New Zealand. See here for the current vaccine roll-out plan.

The exact date when other vaccines will be available in New Zealand is unknown. Their arrival depends on:

  • Data being available to review, particularly in relation to safety and effectiveness 
  • When Medsafe approval is granted
  • When the vaccine can arrive in New Zealand. 
  • To obtain approval for use in New Zealand, each vaccine needs to meet strictly defined safety and efficacy criteria.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech was granted provisional approval for use in New Zealand on 3 February 2021. This means that it has been approved for use in a defined group and on the condition that Medsafe continues to receive and review further data about this vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Click here to find out more.

This approval differs from that granted in other countries, such as the US, UK and in Europe, in which these vaccines were granted ‘emergency-use approval’ based on early data and an urgent need to start vaccinating soon as safely possible. New Zealand has been fortunate to be able to wait, while receiving the most current clinical trial and post-licensure data, to make the decision to approve the use of this vaccine. Once sufficient data has been obtained, it is likely that Medsafe will convert the provisional consent to full consent in due course.

Watch this video from the Ministry of Health with Dr Ashley Bloomfield and MedSafe's Chris James for more on the vaccine approval process in New Zealand. 
 

How long will COVID-19 vaccine immunity (i.e. protection from the COVID-19 disease) last?

We would expect COVID-19 vaccines to provide protection for longer than 2 months, although exactly how long for, remains unknown at this stage. This is because not enough time has passed since the clinical trials started to be able to accurately answer this.

We know that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine lasts for AT LEAST two months, because data supporting this has been reviewed by Medsafe. As part of the conditional approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, more data is to be provided as it becomes available. It is anticipated that further data will be provided on durability of the immune response post vaccination in coming months.

If a person is vaccinated against COVID-19, will they still be able to spread the virus to susceptible people?

An ideal vaccine stops everyone from carrying and passing on the infection as well as protecting them from becoming seriously ill. It is currently unclear whether COVID-19 vaccines only protect against symptomatic and severe disease, or if they can also stop all infection, including asymptomatic infection (i.e. showing no symptoms).

If the vaccine is only able to stop the symptoms of the disease, but unable to stop the virus from infecting us and reproducing, then the virus may still be able to be spread. Even in this case, by reducing the number of people with symptoms will help to reduce spread of the virus because fewer people will be coughing large quantities of virus on others. However, this possible limitation of the vaccine highlights the importance of continuing to follow public health advice such as hand washing and isolating if unwell, even post vaccination. For more information, please click here.

Recently published data from Israel showed that its mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign (using the Pfizer vaccine) was working well with two doses cutting symptomatic cases by 94% across all age groups. Data reported by the CDC in the US has also shown that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were 90% effective in health care workers against SARS-CoV-2 infection (with and without symptoms).

Will other COVID-19 prevention measures such as social distancing be needed if a COVID-19 vaccine is available?

As not all New Zealanders are be able to be vaccinated at once, the current public health measures, including social distancing, mask usage, rapid contact tracing and managing cluster outbreaks, will continue for some time.

With an effective vaccine programme, it is anticipated these control measures can be reduced. This will require a high proportion of the population (estimated to be at least 8 out of 10 people) being immunised.

Even when we have a high proportion of population vaccinated, we will still need to maintain a level of public health measures particularly when we can travel more freely. See this infographic to explain why.

What is the priority - an influenza vaccine or a COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 mRNA vaccine two-dose schedule should take priority over influenza (flu) vaccine.

The flu vaccine can be administered two weeks after the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which is given at least 21 days after the first dose. 

How should we space MMR, influenza and COVID-19 vaccination?

Please continue to allow a four-week gap when giving the MMR vaccine before the COVID-19 vaccine where possible. However, the gap can be reduced to two weeks when giving the MMR vaccine after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Complete both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, 21 days apart, before giving another vaccine.

Please continue to allow a two-week gap between the COVID-19 vaccine and influenza vaccine where possible, regardless of the order they’re given.

Having a gap between the different types of vaccinations makes it easier to judge which vaccine may be responsible for any side effects. Note that there are no clinical safety concerns should the gap between vaccines be less than the recommendations above. Do not delay vaccination if such a gap is not possible.

The MMR and influenza vaccines can be given at the same time.

The Ministry of Health has put together a flowchart for healthcare providers managing MMR and influenza vaccinations around COVID-19.

Can other vaccines be administered with a COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently Medsafe advice is only available for the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech (Comirnaty™) vaccine.

A two-week gap is generally recommended after any non-live vaccine, including influenza, and the Comirnaty mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. If a live vaccine, such as MMR, varicella and zoster vaccine has been given, then a four-week gap is generally recommended before Comirnaty. If Comirnaty, is given first, then maintain a two week gap before any other vaccines. Do not delay if a gap between these vaccines is not practicable.

Please note that two doses of the mRNA vaccine are required, given at least 21-days apart. These recommendations are continually being reviewed.

Will booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine be needed?

Not enough time has passed since first vaccinations were given to be able to answer this question.

People enrolled in clinical trials are being followed up closely, which will allow this question to be answered in due course. For more information, please click here.

It is expected that small adjustments may be made to the vaccine if the COVID-19 virus changes so much that vaccine loses effectiveness. In this case booster doses will be required to better match the virus variants in circulation, like for the influenza vaccine. How frequently these changes will need to be made is unknown. A major advantage of mRNA vaccine technology is that these changes can be made very quickly (new batches available within a few months compared with more than 6 months for seasonal flu vaccines).

What is the acceptable timeframe between the first and second doses of the Comirnaty vaccine?

To be fully immunised with Comirnaty requires two doses given at least 21 days apart.

Vaccinators are advised not to give the second dose earlier than this, and while longer spacing is acceptable, the recommended spacing is for the second dose to be given as close after 21 days as possible.

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.​

If you had the virus 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. Start your vaccination course at least 4 weeks after you have recovered. For more information, please click here.

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 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.