COVID-19: Grand Millennium Hotel MIQ worker case likely 'low-risk event', vaccination status of interest

An Auckland Grand Millennium Hotel managed isolation worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 may have had two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Chris Hipkins says. 

Late on Monday night, the Ministry of Health advised Kiwis a managed isolation worker had tested positive as part of routine surveillance testing. Inquiries are now underway, but the information available so far indicates the worker is asymptomatic.

The case and their immediate household members are now isolating at their home in Auckland while additional tests and genome sequencing are being arranged.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, Hipkins, the COVID-19 Response Minister, said his understanding was that the worker had received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and possibly the second.

"I have asked for the timetable around vaccination, just as to when they had their first dose and if they have had their second dose, when they had that... I think the timing suggests that they might have just recently had it, you know, the second dose."

Officials are putting together all of the information relating to the worker - including vaccine timelines - and Hipkins said that will be shared with the public at the Tuesday 1pm standup.

"You will still see positive test results from people who have been vaccinated. That is the international experience. They tend to be less infectious. That doesn't mean that people can't get COVID-19," Hipkins said.

MIQ workers were among the first to receive the jab when the vaccine rollout began back in February. However, two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - the only vaccine currently being administered in New Zealand - are required for someone to be fully vaccinated. The second round of doses for border and MIQ workers began being given last week.

As of Wednesday last week, 91 percent of border and MIQ workers had received their first jab and 500 of the estimated 15,000 workers had received their second.

A member of the Unite Against COVID-19 social media team on Monday night said the case's vaccination status was not known at the time.

Dr Michael Baker, an infectious diseases expert from the University of Otago, told Newshub the "usual questions" apply to this case, such as how did they get infected and who have they been in contact with since they were infected.

But he believes Kiwis shouldn't be too concerned.

"This is likely to be a low-risk event as this person didn't have symptoms, they were found as part of routine testing. Obviously, they are currently isolated at home," Dr Baker said.

"I wouldn't be overly concerned given that their contacts will be easily identified. As they were found as part of routine testing, they have had probably little opportunity to go out and infect other people."

Michael Baker.
Michael Baker. Photo credit: Newshub.

But one new question we haven't faced when border workers have tested positive previously is what the case's vaccination status is.

"MIQ workers are meant to have been vaccinated at this stage. I haven't heard anything about the vaccine status of this particular case. They should have all received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine," Dr Baker told Newshub.

"It wouldn't be unexpected that someone who has been vaccinated could test positive. We would have to know when they got the dose, how many doses they have had. Even if you are vaccinated, there is still the potential for you to get infected.

"It may be that you get infected and you get no symptoms. The vaccine is very good at protecting people from getting seriously ill from this infection."

Dr Baker said as long as people were returning to New Zealand from overseas, there was always a risk COVID-19 could pop up.

"The big message is that we are still getting large numbers of people coming into New Zealand who are testing positive in our MIQ facilities."

He continues to advocate for a reduction in the number of people being allowed back into the country.