20 May

The COVID-19 Vaccine in NZ: FAQs – Your Questions Answered About the Pfizer Vaccine

As the NZ government has now begun rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination plan with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, ZOOM Pharmacy’s Lead Pharmacist, Din Redzepagic gives you the facts about the vaccine and answers common questions.

About the NZ Vaccine Roll-Out

In New Zealand, the government is rolling out the Pfizer-BioNtec vaccine – more commonly known as the Pfizer vaccine. The trade name given to the vaccine is COMIRNATY™ COVID-19 vaccine.

In New Zealand all people 16 years and over can get the vaccine and be vaccinated. You can be vaccinated regardless of your citizenship or visa status.

No. The Pfizer vaccine is not currently approved for use for children under the age of 16 years in New Zealand.

Yes! The vaccine is free in New Zealand.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for the general population.

The vaccine roll-out is being handled in grouped stages. People at higher risk will be vaccinated first.

  • Group 1 – border and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) workers and their household contacts.
  • Group 2 – high-risk frontline workers; those living in long-term residential care, older Māori and Pacific people being cared for by whānau, and those at high risk living in Counties Manukau DHB area.
  • Group 3 – People aged 65 or over; those who have a relevant underlying health condition; are pregnant; disabled people; adults in a custodial setting.
  • Group 4 – Everyone else in Aotearoa aged 16 and over.

If you are in stage/group 1 or 2, you will be contacted by your local health provider or employer. These stages are now in progress.

For stages/groups 3 and 4 your District Health Board will provide updates on where and when you can get the vaccine. There will be a range of places where you can get vaccinated, including community clinics, marae, pop-up venues and pharmacies.

For more information visit covid19.govt.nz

About the Pfizer-Biontech Vaccine

If you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an immediate allergic reaction, even if it was not severe, to any ingredient in the vaccine, you should not get the vaccine. Please talk to your health professional.
If you have an allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine, you should discuss this with your doctor.

Unfortunately, there is not yet definitive information on how long the vaccine may ultimately protect against COVID-19. Pfizer reports it has been effective to at least 6 months. They are continuing to monitor trial participants. There is some evidence to suggest that the immunity may last at least 8 months. It is possible that yearly booster shots will be required to maintain protection in the future.

The Pfizer vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. The messenger RNA instructs cells in our body to make a harmless piece of protein called the viral spike (S) protein. This spike protein is the one found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19 (the SARS-CoV-2 virus). The spike protein helps the virus get into our cells.
The protein triggers the body’s immune system to produce a neutralising antibody and other immune responses to fight against it. This means our body develops a ‘memory’ of how to protect us if we do become infected with the virus.
The cell breaks down the mRNA soon after it has done its instructing job.

The vaccine will not affect your DNA. The vaccine mRNA does not enter the cell nucleus where our DNA is held, and it is broken down soon after giving the cell its instructions.

No, the vaccine is not a live vaccine – it does not contain any weakened (or inactivated) virus.

Yes, there is a chance you might still get COVID-19 after being fully immunised, however if you do, it is likely that your symptoms will be much less severe.

No, you will not be contagious once you have had the vaccine.
At present, there is not enough information to know for certain if you still transmit the virus if you get COVID-19 after being vaccinated. There are promising signs that vaccination is likely to reduce the chance of transmission.

No, you won’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain any live virus.

Whilst it is not clear yet whether the Pfizer vaccine will protect against all variants of the virus, there is some evidence that it gives good protection for some. Vaccine manufacturers are investigating the production of future booster shots that may assist with protecting against specific variants.

To be fully protected you must get 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The second dose should be at least 21 days (3 weeks) after the first dose. You may not be fully protected until 7 days after the second dose.
Whilst it is best to take the second dose 3 weeks after the first, if for some reason you can’t do this, it is still OK to take it later.

In placebo-controlled clinical trials the Pfizer vaccine was found to be on average 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection for people 16 years of age and over.

There is also some evidence that the vaccine may be even more effective in real world use compared to the clinical trials.

However, like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine may not protect everyone who gets vaccinated.

Clinical trials found the Pfizer vaccine to be very safe. Medsafe, the NZ government’s medicines safety authority, have also assessed the vaccine and deemed it safe and fit for purpose.

However, like any vaccine, there are some potential side-effects to the vaccine. They are mainly mild or moderate and should only last a few days after vaccination. Side-effects are more common after the second dose.

Very common or common side effects are: pain swelling or redness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, joint or muscle pain, chills or fever, nausea.

Uncommon side effects are: enlarged lymph nodes, malaise – or feeling unwell, pain in the limbs, insomnia, itching at the injection site.

Palsy, or temporary one-sided drooping of the face, is a rare potential side effect.

It is also possible that some people might have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. When you have the vaccine your health professional will monitor you for at least 20 minutes afterwards.

About the Pfizer Vaccine & Your Health

If you have had an allergic reaction to another vaccine or injection you should discuss this with your doctor or vaccinator.

You should consult with your doctor or health professional. It is possible that the effectiveness of the vaccine may be lower in people with a suppressed immune system.

You should discuss this with your doctor. Having an underlying health condition can make you more susceptible to severe COVID-19.
People with some pre-existing conditions with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms participated in the Pfizer clinical trials. There was no difference in how well the vaccine worked for these people. This included people with asthma a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2, chronic pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension.

Mention that you are on blood thinners to your health professional and vaccinator. As with any other injection into the muscle, the COVID-19 vaccination may cause bleeding or bruising to occur.

You will need to wait at least 2 weeks between the COViD-19 vaccination and a flu vaccination. It is recommended you have your COVID-19 vaccination first if you are now eligible and want to have both.
You can have the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine 2 weeks after a COVID-19 vaccination.
If you have had a Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine first, wait 4 weeks until you have the COVID-19 vaccination.

It is best to talk to your doctor about the COVID-19 vaccine if you are pregnant. Whilst there is no reason to expect that the vaccine will be harmful, your doctor will help you assess your individual benefits and risks of getting the vaccine.

If you have a question about the COVID-19 vaccine I haven’t answered, you can contact me or one of my friendly team of highly-trained ZOOM pharmacists on FreePhone 0508 966 622 Mon – Fri 8.30am to 5.30pm.
We will be updating this page as new information is available. This page was updated on 20 May 2021.

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References/Further Reading (Accessed May 2021)