COVID-19 coordinator explains why Kiwis with severe mental illnesses get early vaccine access

A Kiwi vaccination coordinator has explained some young Kiwis with healthy bodies may still receive an invitation for early COVID-19 vaccination if they suffer from a severe mental illness.

In a post to the New Zealand Reddit thread over the weekend, one Kiwi expressed confusion they had received an invite to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

"Despite ticking all the boxes saying I don't have a condition which would affect my immune system etc it still says I'm eligible," they said.

"I don't know why I've been selected, when I should be among the last to get vaccinated. I'm keen to get it, but not if it means taking up an appointment slot that could have gone to someone more at risk."

They asked if anyone else had received the invite, "but don't have underlying health conditions and you're still young".

The Kiwi was surprised to learn they had been determined to be part of Group 3 due to their history of depression.

Juliet Rumball-Smith from New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccine and immunisation programme confirmed Kiwis with a history of severe mental illness are able to access the vaccine early.

"While mild depression would not qualify, the criteria for Group 3 does include some severe mental illnesses," she said.

According to the Ministry of Health, you can get early access to the COVID-19 vaccine if you're aged 16 years and over, and have been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, and adults currently accessing secondary and tertiary mental health and addiction services.

Other people who get early access are Kiwis who:

  • are aged 65 or over, or
  • have a relevant underlying health condition, or
  • are disabled, or
  • are in a position of caring for a person with a disability, or
  • are pregnant (any trimester), or
  • are an adult in a custodial setting.

Rumball-Smith said some people who no longer have severe mental illnesses may also be invited by mistake.

"We’re aware of a number of people who have received an invitation to book a vaccination who believe that they should not be in Group 3. There are a variety of reasons that could explain this - instances of outdated patient information, for example."

Vaccines for Group 3 are currently underway but Kiwis who fall into Group 4 (the rest of the population) will have to wait until at least July 28 for the jab.

The group will be divided into age bands with people aged 60 years and over the first to book. Followed by people aged 55 and over from August 11.

Depending on vaccine supply and progress, invitations are expected to open up to people over 45 years from mid-to-late August, mid-to-late September for people 35-plus, with everyone else being eligible from October.