Covid 19 coronavirus: Death of New Zealander after vaccine reported, no direct link established

A New Zealander has died after getting a Covid-19 vaccination, but the Ministry of Health says there is no direct link.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed a death had been reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM) at today’s 1pm update.

Hipkins said the information provided so far suggested the death wasn’t linked to the vaccine.

The death was being investigated by the coroner. “That doesn’t mean it is linked to the vaccine. There can be other good explanations,” Hipkins said.

$1.4 billion vaxx fund

Hipkins also announced a $1.4 billion vaccination fund over two years will ensure vaccines are free for every New Zealander.

He confirmed what director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has already revealed: almost $1 billion has been set aside to buy vaccines, which is yet to be exhausted.

If every Kiwi was fully vaccinated once, all the funding is spent, no vaccine supply is kept in reserve and the money provided for COVAX is comparatively negligible, it works out to cost about $190 a head.

Of the rest of the fund, Hipkins said $66.3 million is for specialist vaccine equipment, including storage facilities and transport, while the remaining $356.9 million is for technology to support the roll-out, funding for DHBs, Medsafe support, and for community immunisation centres.

“In addition to the $1.4 billion, $30 million has gone into vaccine research and the potential for domestic manufacturing, and $75 million for Official Development Assistance funding to support Pacific and global vaccine access,” Hipkins said.

“We’re closely monitoring the programme to ensure it’s as effective and efficient as it can be and so we can prepare to support annual immunisation programmes in future to maintain the ground we have gained.”

Hipkins said charging anyone for the vaccine had never been considered, because it’s important to have uptake as high as possible.

Hipkins said charging anyone for the vaccine has never been considered, because it’s important to have uptake as high as possible.

He said it was hard to say how much vaccines will cost in the future, but they were “likely to get cheaper, and we’re likely to get better at it”.

“We don’t know how many shots of the vaccine people might need. I don’t think it would cost this much on a yearly basis.”

He said no decisions have been made about keeping the vaccine free on an ongoing basis.

Six new Covid cases in MIQ

There were six new Covid cases in managed isolation to report today and none in the community.

One of the new cases in MIQ flew in from India on May 14 and tested positive to Covid on their day three routine testing, while two others flew in from Qatar on May 14 and 15 and tested positive on days two and three of their MIQ stay. The other three MIQ cases arrived from Bahrain, Turkey and Maldives and tested positive on their day 0 routine testing.

A historical case reported yesterday as being in a recent returnee in managed isolation had now been reclassified as not being a case.

That meant the total number of active cases in New Zealand today was 25. The country’s total number of confirmed cases was 2302.

There will also be an update on Covid-19 test results from wastewater in the Wellington region issued later this afternoon.

Since the start of the year, there had been 60 historical cases, out of a total of 486 cases.

Vaccination rollout update

About 14,000 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, and the latest numbers continue to track ahead of the delivery target, Hipkins said.

He said the 500,000 doses mark will be reached in the next 48 hours.

Hipkins said 5358 people had completed the vaccination training programme so far.

Vaccines that were part of agreed purchase agreements included some that will be donated, including AstraZeneca to Fiji.

Discussions were under way about the five million Janssen vaccines that New Zealand had purchased, including whether the 3 million doses in the second purchase round could be changed, Hipkins said.

Hipkins said having the vaccine for everyone from the start of July didn’t mean everyone will be vaccinated then. People will be able to use the booking system when it goes live at the start of June.

One vaccine other than Pfizer was likely to be available later this year as a contingency in case Pfizer supplies were held up, but it would still depend on Medsafe approval.

Some of the delay in getting approval for AstraZeneca, he said, was around manufacturing rather than efficacy.

The High Court decision that found the vaccine approval was legally questionable wasn’t delaying any of the Medsafe processes, he said. A bill to make give the approval legal certainty will be rushed through Parliament today.

Hipkins said he had “a little bit of anxiety” if the rollout had to scale back before bigger vaccine supplies arrive.

“Beyond July, there’s some question marks around exactly what dates what quantities are arriving. Those discussions are literally happening as we speak.”

A “significant disruption tot he supply chain” would likely lead to a delay in the rollout, he said.

He was also nervous about ramping up the rollout in the second half of the year.

He said there were three main IT systems, including the vaccination register, which was working well, the inventory management showing where doses are, which he said was also working well.

The booking system is being trialed at the moment. “The feedback I’ve had is that the trial is going well.”

The booking system included a recall system to let people know when to get their second dose.

“These systems are being developed in a hurry, and there might be a need for adjustments as they go live.”

AG's report into rollout

Yesterday Auditor-General John Ryan released a report into the vaccination rollout, saying that a “significant scale-up” is needed if the Government is to hit its vaccination goals.

And even if everything ran according to plan, the goal would only just be achieved.

Last week the rollout was ahead of the delivery target, with just over 120,000 people having had two vaccines doses.

But the real challenge will come when larger supplies of the Pfizer vaccine arrive from July.

“I am not yet confident that all the pieces will fall into place quickly enough for the programme to ramp up to the level required over the second half of 2021,” Ryan said.

It comes as a vaccination centre in Ōtara says it may have to cut the number of days it operates unless it urgently gets more vaccinators.

Ryan noted there were “significant risks” around the number of vaccinators, the distribution model to ensure doses were delivered to the right place and at the right time, and ensuring that Māori, Pasifika, people with disabilities, and hard-to-reach communities were vaccinated.

Hipkins responded by saying it was an ambitious rollout, and he was confident but nervous about it.

“We are going to be pulling out all the stops to make sure that everybody can have a vaccine by the end of the year.”

This year’s Budget isn’t expected to set aside any funding for a purpose-built facility for a future pandemic or similar emergency event.

Health experts have long pushed for Such a facility at the Air Force site in Ohakea, which could provide separate rooms and bathrooms with good ventilation, as well as move the risk away from more densely-populated centres.

Hipkins has previously said that the Government was seriously considering one, but the Herald understands Cabinet discussions are ongoing.

The remainder of the Government’s $62 billion Covid response and recovery fund (CRRF) could be used if there’s another outbreak and subsequent lockdown, which would require more wage subsidies or business support.

But much of what remains in the fund will be allocated for recovery – such as to boost housing supply and infrastructure – rather than for response purposes.

That’s because the foreseeable future needs for vaccines, testing kits and PPE supplies have been accounted for in funding announced in December last year.

Tomorrow’s Budget will reveal how much is left in the CRRF, which was boosted by $50b in last year’s Budget to a total of $62b – or 21 per cent of GDP.

In February the Government said $10.2b was left, but it has since been bolstered by the $926 million that had been previously allocated which ministers no longer expected to spend.

The fund has also been drained by the $3.8b housing fund, announced in March, to acquire more land and develop infrastructure – including roads and pipes to homes – so more houses can be built.

The Covid kitty is not expected to be boosted in Budget 2021, but the Government can always borrow more money if it runs out.

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