A guide to the COVID-19 vaccine

New Zealand has begun rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination programme and to date, more than 90,000 doses have been administered to border and MIQ workers, as well as frontline workers and people living in high-risk settings.

The Government has ordered enough doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for everyone in New Zealand.  It is free and voluntary to get if you are aged 16 years and over. A vaccination programme is crucial to help New Zealand rid itself of COVID-19.  

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

Pfizer/BioNTech is the main COVID-19 vaccine being used in New Zealand. It is given in two doses about three weeks apart.

This vaccine is known as a ‘mRNA’ vaccine. It works by delivering genetic material into the body’s cells, which then instructs those cells to make a harmless piece of protein. This protein stimulates our immune system to produce antibodies that attack the virus: in this case, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The vaccine protects individuals from the effects of the virus. However, it is too early for researchers to tell whether a vaccinated person could still transmit COVID-19 to someone else, or how long you will be protected.

When will I be vaccinated?

Our vaccine programme is being administered in four groups, based on your risk of catching the virus. You will be sent an invite to be vaccinated when it is your turn, likely by your local DHB or health provider.

The majority of border staff including MIQ workers and their close contacts, as well as many frontline health workers, have already received vaccinations.

The next group to be vaccinated includes people living in high-risk settings, such as those living in long-term residential care, older Māori or Pacific people being cared for by whānau, and those aged over 65 who live in the Counties Manukau DHB area. This phase is already underway.

Those at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 will be vaccinated in the third group, beginning in May. This includes people aged over 65, those with a relevant underlying health condition, or anyone who is disabled or living in a custodial setting.

The rest of the population – approximately 2 million people – will get their jabs from July onwards.

You can apply for an early vaccine if you need to travel outside of New Zealand before 31 August – these will be granted on compassionate grounds or for reasons of national significance. Visit covid19.govt.nz to check if you’re eligible.  

Where will vaccinations happen?

There will be a variety of facilities around the country to ensure it is easy and convenient for every New Zealander to receive their vaccine.

You may get it at your home, place of residence or workplace (if you live or work in a long-term residential care facility, for example) or at your GPs office. There will also be community clinics and pop-up centres around your area, as well as mobile clinics operating around the country.

Can anyone be vaccinated?

Anyone 16 years and older can receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. It is important to remember that receiving the vaccine is your choice. No one, including a health professional, family member or friend, can force you to be vaccinated. Search out unbiased and accredited resources to help you make an informed choice.

If you have any underlying medical conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding (we’d be surprised if some of our older readers are but you never know) or have had an allergic reaction to a previous vaccine or injection, get advice from your GP before being vaccinated.  

Is the vaccine safe?

Clinical trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine show that is has been up to 95% effective. Everyone responds differently to medicines, however, which means no vaccine is ever 100 percent safe. Some people may experience mild side effects, such as redness around the injection site, a headache, dizziness or sore muscles for a few days – this is evidence that the vaccine has started activating the immune system. In very rare cases, some people may experience more severe reactions.

There is a lot of dangerous and unsubstantiated misinformation being circulated regarding the risks of vaccinations. Importantly, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 and there is no possibility it could affect your DNA/genes. Rigorous scientific research has found no link between vaccines and any long-term severe health problems. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine does not contain animal products, so it is safe for people with allergies to egg-based vaccines.

If you have any underlying health issues or concerns, ensure you get advice from a medical professional before being vaccinated. For more information about vaccine safety, visit covid.govt.nz or health.govt.nz.

Photo credit: Spencer Davis on Unsplash

About Mason Head

Mason Head
Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet

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