COVID-19 vaccines given to people working near vaccination clinics after no-shows

By Eleisha Foon for RNZ

Some people are jumping the vaccine queue in Christchurch, with leftover jabs being given to people working near vaccination clinics.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) has said it is to avoid wastage but, with frontline health workers being prioritised for spares in other regions, it has left local doctors fuming.

Canterbury doctors said they felt disappointed for not being prioritised and "in the dark" about how the vaccine rollout works.

Christchurch GP Dr Angus Chambers, who runs a medical clinic in Riccarton, said it was "disappointing" and he still had no idea when he would be getting his vaccine.

"I think it's a terrible failing of the system that we haven't managed to do this. It is not a good example of partnership in the health system and seems to trivialise or minimise the risks our workforce faces."

Christchurch started its vaccine rollout with about seven clinics based at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities and at the airport.

The Pfizer vaccine has to be used within six hours and cannot be moved to another location after it has been brought to room temperature and diluted.

In a statement, CDHB executive lead for COVID-19 response Ralph La Salle confirmed unused doses were offered to nearby businesses.

"On one occasion, on Sunday March 7 at the end of the day we had three vaccine doses left due to the fact three people didn't attend their pre-booked vaccination appointment. Due to the remote location of the clinic and it being late on a Sunday afternoon, and the fact that the vaccine couldn't be moved, the three doses were offered to a local company close to the vaccination clinic."

He said there is a "contingency plan in place to prevent wastage of any vaccine supply which is soon to expire".

Dr Vanessa Weenink said that appeared to be just an excuse for bad planning.

"If they had to grab random people nearby they didn't have a list at short notice. We have clinics working 24/7. Workers could be contacted any time and the Riccarton Clinic is 10-15 minutes away from the airport where the vaccination clinic is, so I think that's a little bit of a red herring actually."

She wanted the DHB to collect health care workers' contact details and availability in the event of spare doses.

"I hope they will soon have a detailed list of names and numbers. That's the kind of thing I thought would have been happening anyway."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said spare vaccines had been given to people outside of the vaccine priority plan since the beginning of the programme, to avoid wastage.

On the first weekend of vaccinating border workers, some healthcare workers were vaccinated with spares.

Dr Chambers said there were plenty of healthcare staff who were not working seven days a week and could easily be called up at short notice to drive out to get a dose.

"I would like to see some certainty. I would like to know what's expected of me as a general practitioner in terms of delivering the programme. As a person who is facing the risk of catching the disease, I would like to be vaccinated as soon as possible."

Under the government's rollout plan, a total of 2 million people are expected to have their first vaccination within four months.

The Government plans to have 50 vaccination centres up and running by early next week. Some 50,000 people have already received their first shot.

MIQ border workers and their families are expected to have largely been vaccinated by the end of March.

Immunising the second group, New Zealand's frontline healthcare workers, and people living in "high-risk settings" like rest homes has already begun.

Other priority populations are expected to start getting vaccinated from May, and the remainder of the New Zealand population - about two million people, can expect to start vaccinations from July.