Covid-19: Big challenge of vaccinating New Zealand is scale – microbiologist

The government making a deal to purchase two more brands of Covid-19 vaccines is proof of good progress, a clinical microbiologist says.

University of Otago professor of infectious diseases David Murdoch.

David Murdoch.
Photo: University of Otago

University of Otago professor David Murdoch is a clinical microbiologist who was consulted for the WHO and the Health’s Ministry Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group.

He told Nine to Noon the announcement of the new vaccines showed good progress.

“This is a very complex programme that’s been set up – the biggest every immunisation for the country. So it is interesting seeing the extra detail, really filling in a few gaps. We now have four vaccines in the portfolio which are different; have different technologies; there’s a greater number than the population. There’s some options if some don’t prove to be successful.”

A total of 7.6 million doses will come from AstraZeneca – enough for 3.8 million people, and 10.72 million doses from Novavax – enough for 5.36 million people. Both vaccines require two doses to be administered.

The government already has to pre-purchase agreements for 750,000 courses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 5 million from Janssen.

Murdoch said it was a balanced portfolio and the timeline of it being made available mid-2021 was not too bad.

He reiterated the World Health Organisation’s advice that higher-income countries should go through its Covax Facility to guarantee equity for all countries.

He said the Pfizer vaccine would be “more challenging” logistically because it needed to be stored at -70C; the other vaccines can be stored at the usual fridge temperatures.

“The freezers have been purchased … if they are strategically located, that can be overcome.”

“The big challenge of course is the scale.”

He said there would need to be a number of vaccinators on the ground.

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