Thursday, December 9

Those affected by the vaccine failure must be contacted quickly – immunologist

An immunization expert says those affected by a possible vaccination failure should be contacted quickly.

Covid-19 vaccination center sign

Five people may have been given a placebo.
Photo: Supplied through LDR

This morning, RNZ revealed that five Aucklanders may have been given a dose of saline instead of the Pfizer vaccine when they attended the Highbrook vaccination center last month.

A senior health official confirmed that there were five doses left at the end of the day and they did not match the records, so the possibility that some people did not receive the correct dose of the vaccine could not be ruled out.

Any of the 732 border workers, frontline healthcare workers, and those 65 and older vaccinated that day could have received a placebo.

The Ministry of Health has not contacted any of those potentially affected.

Vaccine scientist Helen Petousis-Harris, a member of the government’s Covid-19 immunization implementation advisory group, told RNZ that an immediate investigation must be conducted into what happened so that those affected are contacted by health officials.

He said that an error would have occurred during the process of preparing the vaccine for use.

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Vaccine scientist Helen Petousis-Harris says it is important that the circumstances of the incident are investigated immediately so that those affected can be informed.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

“As we know, they come frozen and need to be thawed, so once they are thawed in the little jar that they come in, the vaccinator will add saline or salt water. That will be reversed a few times and then the vaccine will be good to go. …

“If someone takes an empty vial and puts it in saline, the person will indeed receive a placebo. They will not receive any vaccine, so of course these types of errors must be quickly identified and communicated with the person.”

He said it was important that those potentially affected be notified so that they could arrange another dose of vaccination, if they thought they needed it.

“The concern is that if someone hasn’t gotten a full dose, they may not develop as much immunity to that as someone who has gotten a full dose. People who get a lower dose can still develop an immune response.

“But I guess you have to first determine what might have happened and go through the investigative process and then contact the people who may have been affected by that.”

“There is absolutely no harm in terms of vaccination or the vaccination process. It will only be important to make sure that people are aware so that, if necessary, they can get vaccinated again, for example.”

The national director of the Covid-19 vaccination and immunization program, Jo Gibbs, said a full investigation into the incident was underway. He added that the Ministry of Health had a “principle of open communication with the patients involved.”

Gibbs said contact would be made once the circumstances of the incident were fully understood, so that people could receive appropriate advice.

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