Delta outbreak: Auckland GP wants unused COVID-19 vaccines used as boosters for frontline health staff

An Auckland GP has written to the Health Minister and Director General urgently requesting booster shots be authorised for frontline health workers. 

It comes amid concern that vaccines going in the bin at the end of the day - could be put in the arms of those whose immunity is waning. 

Doses are being wasted at GP clinics when people don't turn up for appointments. 

Auckland GP Dr Roy Knill said spare doses could be used as boosters for frontline health workers, instead of being tossed out.  

"We've got a bit of a silly situation where there are vaccines available. It's being thrown out in practices every day and yet there are people in practices that could very well benefit from having those doses. 

It's something the Royal NZ College of GPs is hearing about too. Medical Director Dr Bryan Betty says many GPs are concerned about wasted vaccines. 

"I've had several practices contact me about that issue and whether they can give the booster to staff."

Most GPs got their second dose about six months ago. International research shows immune protection from the Pfizer vaccine drops from 88 percent to 47 percent over that time period. 

The Government has indicated boosters will be dished out before Christmas but Dr Knill wants to see them earlier. 

"We should have that right now. We don't see why we should wait. COVID numbers are going up, we will be coming into contact with more COVID. We need those boosters now." 

Procare, the country's largest group of general practices, which service 800,000 people in Auckland, say there are many frontline health workers who want a booster shot, especially older doctors and nurses who had their second dose earlier this year. The company says it wants clarity from the Health Ministry so it can plan its rollout accordingly. 

Procare chief executive, Bindi Norwell told Newshub they need clarity as soon as possible.

"This is especially important as the Christmas break is just eight weeks away now."

At this vaccine clinic in Henderson staff say they do their best to get any spares into arms. 

Te Whanau O Waipareira Vaccination Site lead Lorraine Busby says they offer them to passersby. 

"We'll run into the carpark across the road and see if there's anyone out there who hasn't been vaccinated and invite them in."

Clinical Lead Kim Wi says only a small amount of vaccines are wasted. 

"There is some wastage, very minimal wastage because we're constantly counting what's coming through the door."

Both of them say there's a lot of interest among staff in getting that third dose. 

The Ministry says Medsafe is assessing an application from Pfizer to vary the dosing instructions to include the use of a booster dose

It says only 0.29 percent of vaccines are wasted. 

Dr Betty says having two doses - even if it was months ago - will still protect staff

"The vaccine still protects you against serious illness and death. The thing that changes is a slight increase in transmissibility." 

Getting COVID on the job is the last thing doctors want and they're hoping the booster ends up being an early Christmas present, rather than a late one.

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