New Zealand rolls out COVID-19 vaccines

Border workers in New Zealand are being vaccinated against the coronavirus this week with the first group of 25 workers in Wellington being immunised on Monday.

The advance marks a major step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Health began vaccinating staff at the Grand Mercure Hotel, starting with Group Captain Peter Johnson, the general manager of the 32 managed isolation and quarantine hotels. 

New Zealand is using the Pfizer vaccine, which landed in the country last week. It successfully vaccinated border workers at the Jet Park Hotel in Auckand on Saturday, and will continue the programme for another week, starting in Christchurch on Wednesday. 

Among the workforce are staff managing the hotels, maritime borders, and airport borders.

Vaccinations will reach Hamilton on Friday, and Rotorua on Saturday.

Group Captain Johnson said he has seen his family vaccinated in the United Kingdom.

“I have family in the UK who have been in lockdown for almost a year,” he said.

“My elderly father, mother-in-law and sister, who is a healthcare worker, were all vaccinated there and have said it’s similar to a normal flu jab. That’s given me confidence.

His vaccinator was nurse educator and vaccinator Marie Ryan-Hobowska from the Capital and Coast District Health Board, who is also among the first to be vaccinated for COVID-19. 

“Our workers here in Wellington are eagerly anticipating their invitation for vaccination. Having the vaccination available gives us another level of confidence that we are safe, and our whanau and friends are safe too,” she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media on Monday she too plans to get the vaccine, but not until after the 12,000 border workers have their shots first.

“We expect to have all 12,000 frontline border workers complete in the next two to three weeks. We'll start out gradually ensuring we've got our systems right and then we'll scale up,” she said.

“I am ready and willing to be vaccinated and I absolutely will be,” she said.

“The important thing for me though was to prioritise those at the greatest risk. I'm not at the greatest risk. Those we needed to look after are our frontline border workers [...] yes, I want to model that it is safe and so I will be publicly vaccinated but I want to make sure those at the most risk are vaccinated first.”

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the whole country has returned to Level 1 with the latest community outbreak under control, Ms. Ardern said. 

Speaking after Cabinet, Ms. Ardern said the risk of further spread is low enough to justify moving Auckland to Level 1, but citizens are urged to keep tracing their steps in case another outbreak occurs.

Another community case related to the outbreak was also announced, with the news that the case had been in self-isolation at home since Monday last week. 

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