The Health Ministry has hinted that it will look for alternative vaccines for people who react badly to the Pfizer injection.
People with chronic health problems that prevent them from being immunized against Covid-19 say they feel marginalized by the way the government has approached vaccination.
They fear being seen as lepers when vaccination certificates are distributed nationally and do not feel part of the message of the prime minister’s “team of 5 million”.
Some feel sunk in a hole, wanting to get vaccinated but can’t because the vaccines their doctors suggest they might receive are not available in New Zealand.
Rachael Bailey is one of them.
They have a number of health conditions including multiple degenerative diseases, but they still rolled up their sleeves for the first Pfizer injection, only to face significant side effects.
“I realized that I was struggling to breathe, that I was breathing very shallowly and that my heart ached,” they said.
“It wasn’t like a panic attack. It wasn’t like when you have heartburn, this was, you know, my heart ached. I went gray.
“I did some vital signs and my heart was at 57 beats per minute, which for me is an amazing drop.”
Bailey’s temperature also dropped to a hypothermic state.
The symptoms subsided and increased over and over again in the next few days.
Seven weeks later, they have experienced significant loss of muscle strength, suffered from exhaustion and a depressive episode, and now even struggle to walk short distances, losing their breath.
“And I’m a hiker, you know, I’ll go ashore and hike for hours. So really, really, really unusual.”
Due to the reaction, Bailey will not receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and she fears what that will mean for her future.
“I am in the throes of the biggest depressive episode I have had in years because I feel totally surrounded by a denial of my existence and I feel like I am facing a possibly jobless future, possibly never being able to go to a concert again or go to my Favorite restaurant with my husband, nothing.
“And where does that end? They could ban you from anything other than online shopping.”
Bailey has been told that they could probably get the Novavax inoculation, which is understood to have fewer side effects for people with their health problems.
But the vaccine is not available in New Zealand, despite being purchased by the government.
‘Merit’ in providing other vaccines, says ministry
In a statement, the Health Ministry said it recognizes the merit of offering other vaccines.
“So far, Pfizer is the only vaccine that Cabinet has agreed to use in the general New Zealand population,” the statement read.
“Last month, New Zealand announced a donation of 708,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to the COVAX facility, for delivery in October. The remaining doses from our purchase agreement will be available in 2022. No decisions have been made on these doses.
“We will also consider using Janssen in New Zealand once delivery times have been confirmed.
“Following MedSafe’s regulatory decision on the safety and efficacy of the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine and once the administration schedules have been confirmed, we will also consider the use of Novavax in New Zealand.
“We recognize that it may be appropriate to provide a different vaccine for those who cannot receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.”
Bailey has now filed a petition requesting that small amounts of other approved vaccines be made available to people with health problems.
They said that only offering the Pfizer vaccine discriminates against people with health problems.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there will be no unpleasant consequences for people with real health problems.
He said that they will not be banned from events such as concerts, or restaurants and bars, when vaccination certificates come into force.
“We will have provisions for the very limited circumstances in which someone cannot be vaccinated.”
Michael Dreyer, group manager for digital services at the Ministry of Health, said how it will work is not yet known.
“We are working with several technical partners to enable the My COVID Record product to be released as soon as possible, while ensuring that it is robust and secure,” said Dreyer.
“It will be delivered in stages and the final parts are expected to be available to the general public by the end of November. In the meantime, many underlying technical components remain that need to be put together safely.
“My COVID record is based on information from the National Covid-19 Immunization Registry (CIR).
“With the support of our clinical advisers, we are looking for options on how information about people who cannot receive a vaccine can be recorded in the CIR and how that information will be displayed on My COVID Record and the National Vaccine Certificate.”
Vaccine certificates are expected to be introduced in November.