Coronavirus: Woman potentially caught in saline injection mix up 'disappointed' at officials' 'lack of honestly'

A woman who has an underlying health condition and thought she was getting a COVID-19 vaccine says she feels betrayed and lied to after potentially getting a saline injection instead.

More than 700 Aucklanders who were vaccinated on the same day are in the same boat and were only told there was an issue after it was leaked to the media.

On July 12 at the Highbrook Vaccination Centre in east Auckland, staff reached the end of the day and realised they had an extra vial of the vaccine. It leaves the possibility that five people were given a saline solution instead.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is diluted with saline.

Fiona Tolich got a vaccine that day, but neither she nor health authorities know what was in the syringe. She says she is "shocked" and "disappointed".

"It almost seems like a level of corruption or, you know, lacking honesty and truth - or lack of ethics to be fair," she says.

"And the fact they've sat on this information and haven't told anybody."

On July 12, 732 people were vaccinated at the Highbrook centre. Of these, 421 were getting their second dose and 311 their first. Since then of the 311, 25 still haven't had their second dose.

Tolich is one of them. She wanted to get the vaccine as soon as possible since she has an underlying health condition and her husband is an essential worker. She is furious she wasn't told until it leaked to the media.

"How can we trust anything else or any other process if it takes a leak to get truth and honesty," Tolich says.

The Ministry of Health still hasn't worked out if it will ask those potentially affected to come back for another dose, but it has moved quickly to make changes at all vaccination centres to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"I can reassure everyone that we have safety protocols in place to be able to ensure these types of issues are prevented," says Anthony Jordan, clinical director at the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre.

"We never want it happening in the first place."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there are "still some question marks" if there's any risk.

"Every one of those people could've been vaccinated," he says.

While it's just five possible mistakes out of three million doses, Tolich says health officials aren't "owning any of that".

"I think it's time they wake up and start being truthful or we will stop trusting what they say," she says.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

There was also a vaccine incident in Christchurch on July 14 where the vaccine doses in stock didn't match those administered.

Jo Gibbs, national director for the COVID-19 vaccination programme, says during the full-day clinic in Wigram, six vaccines were given with a very low dose of the vaccine. Following an investigation, they know that the affected cohort in this case is six people because records show it occurred between 1:20pm and 1:40pm that day.

"All six people have been contacted by the DHB and a clinical plan was developed for each person - four people were receiving dose one and two people receiving dose two on July 14. They have since been given another dose of vaccine," Gibbs says.

"This incident occurred as a result of a vaccinator picking up a tray of six syringes that hadn't had the correct vaccine drawn into them."