Chris Hipkins 'quite comfortable' with returnees jumping COVID-19 vaccine queue if first dose given overseas

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is "quite comfortable" with returnees jumping the vaccine queue if they received their first dose overseas. 

Newshub can reveal there are approximately 190 people recorded as having only received a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This is likely to be because they received their first dose of Pfizer or another vaccine overseas.

But the Ministry of Health is unable to say how many of those people were able to jump the queue ahead of Kiwis who are currently eligible, such as the elderly and immuno-compromised.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the "small number of people who have returned to New Zealand and are partially vaccinated are being fully vaccinated where practicable".

The spokesperson said it is "not easily accessible data" to determine where each of the 190 people would fit in the vaccine sequencing framework. In other words, the Ministry of Health can't say how many of them jumped the queue. 

Hipkins said it makes sense to fully vaccinate them. 

"I think it's important that people get full immunity from COVID-19 as quickly as they can. We're only talking about a couple hundred people who have arrived in New Zealand having had a vaccine shot somewhere else and getting their second shot in New Zealand," he told Newshub.

"I'm quite comfortable about that because ultimately, it protects us all. The more people who are fully vaccinated, the more protection there is for everybody."

Hipkins backs letting them skip the queue, even if it means jumping ahead of an elderly person. 

"We're not talking about significant numbers of people jumping the queue. It shouldn't disrupt the roll-out to people who are already booked in or on those priority lists. If it was a large number of people then we might take a different view, but we are talking quite a small number."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Those who have received a dose of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca could be in luck, as research shows it may provide more protection against COVID-19. 

A study by University of Oxford found that giving people different types of COVID-19 vaccine appears not only to be safe, but also a potential way of boosting protection against the virus.  

It found that taking the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by the Pfizer one resulted in a significant increase in antibodies against the coronavirus, compared to using two shots of the same vaccine. 

AstraZeneca has not been given approval yet by New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe, however 3.8 million have been ordered. The Government also ordered 5 million doses from Janssen, which has been given provisional approval.  

In March the Government purchased an additional 8.5 million Pfizer vaccines, bringing the total to 10 million - enough for every Kiwi - making it the main vaccine for use in New Zealand. 

Boosting protection against COVID-19 is more important than ever, with cases continuing to surge across the globe, and the Pfizer jab - the only vaccine New Zealand is currently rolling out - showing signs of weakness. 

The company revealed to CNN on Thursday that it is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and is picking up efforts to develop a booster dose that will hopefully protect people against deadly variants.  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed last month that the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to the generation population will begin at the end of July, which is when over-60s will be invited. 

From August 11, Kiwis aged 50 and over will be invited to get vaccinated, and from there the roll-out is "indicative", with the Government expecting those aged 45 and over to be invited to have a jab from late August. 

The rest of the population will be vaccinated from October.