Coronavirus: First South Island border workers get vaccine as second batch of Pfizer/BioNTech arrives

"It's another level of armour and I feel like a superhero on the inside now."
"It's another level of armour and I feel like a superhero on the inside now." Photo credit: Getty.

About 40 border workers from Christchurch Airport have been vaccinated today as the COVID-19 immunisation programme starts rolling out in the South Island.

Auckland workers were the first in the country to get the Pfizer-BioNTech injections on Saturday and the programme began in Wellington on Monday.

Yesterday, 35 of the Canterbury-based vaccination team gave and received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to prepare for today's rollout.

About 20 percent of New Zealand's border and MIQ workforce are based in Canterbury, according to the Ministry of Health.

In a statement, Canterbury DHB clinician Alan Pithie said the rollout of the programme in Canterbury was an important milestone.

"This is just the start of the vaccination rollout and we are confident that the system we have created is robust and efficient. We are really proud of our team, this is obviously a new situation for everyone, but it is incredibly important that we complete this first phase as quickly as possible," Dr Pithie said.

The Christchurch Airport workers, who included aviation security workers, cleaners, police, customs workers and health protection officers, took their first dose at a nearby community based testing centre.

Health protection officer Debbie Smith said she was relieved to get vaccinated today.

"It's another level of armour and I feel like a superhero on the inside now. Working on the frontline, you tend to live your life differently. There have been events I've thought twice about going to because of the potential risk I pose and that's where the vaccination is going to let me live my life a little bit more normally, I hope."

Her colleague, Jimmy Wong, said getting vaccinated was a huge relief because it meant greater protection for his family.

"I've got a three-month-old baby at the moment and it's very important to me to do what I can to protect myself and to protect my family."

Both have been working at Christchurch International Airport for a year and one of their roles is health screening people returning on international flights.

Airport cleaner Cherry Alinsob - who works full-time for OCS Ltd - said she was very keen to get vaccinated and pleased to get that opportunity today.

"I'm happy so I can protect myself and my family. I have felt a little nervous working at the airport and this is a real relief."

In a statement, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said about 1000 border workers and vaccinators in total had now received their first dose.

"That's a great start and we appreciate the effort of the vaccinators and border workers," Hipkins said.

He said the number of vaccines being administered would gradually scale up.

More Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses arrive

A second batch of about 76,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived yesterday at Auckland International Airport. Last week, 60,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in the country.

Hipkins said further shipments of vaccines could be expected "over the coming weeks".

"By the end of March, we're due to receive a total of about 450,000 doses - enough to vaccinate 225,000 people with a two-dose course.

"The Ministry of Health is working with Pfizer/BioNTech to develop a delivery schedule for the vaccines that ensures a smooth rollout and scaling up of our immunisation programme as we rollout to the general public in mid-year."

The immunisation programme aims to have all the country's 12,000 border and managed isolation and quarantine staff vaccinated first, followed by their household contacts.

Additionally, 490,000 special-purpose needles also arrived yesterday, which will help maximise safe usage of the vaccine.

"Making the most of every vial of the vaccine and avoiding waste will help to ensure the successful rollout of our immunisation programme," Hipkins said.