Which COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use by MFAT staff?
The COVID-19 vaccines approved for use by MFAT staff are those which have been authorised by World Health Organisation (WHO) Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRAs).
The SRA list is a way of recognising that the health authorities of certain countries adhere to the very highest standards when they assess the efficacy and safety of new medicines. In nearly all circumstances if a medicine is approved for use by an SRA that decision can be trusted to have been based on a thorough assessment of the data. The health authorities of the following countries are considered to be SRAs:
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
In addition, health authorities of every European Union (EU) member state is listed by the WHO as an SRA. However this is in the full expectation that medicine authorisation decisions will be made by the European Medicines Agency rather than individual member states.
For a COVID-19 vaccine to be considered by Healix for endorsement for use by MFAT staff and dependants it must receive authorisation for use by an SRA. These vaccines will then be reviewed by the Healix Medical Director for final approval.
There is a great deal of discussion regarding which COVID-19 vaccine is ‘best’. For the vaccines approved by an SRA and endorsed by Healix, the best choice is the vaccine which you can access the most quickly and easily. All endorsed vaccines are very similar in their ability to prevent serious disease including hospitalisation; in each case they offer almost complete protection from such outcomes. Differences in efficacy between the endorsed vaccines are extremely minor, and vaccination should not be delayed in order to access a different endorsed product. If you have specific concerns regarding which vaccine to receive, please contact Healix to discuss.
So far, the following vaccines have SRA authorisation and Healix endorsement and are supported and funded under MFATs policy:
- Pfizer-BioNTech (including updated bivalent boosters)
- AstraZeneca-Oxford University (See further details below)
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) (See further details below)
- Valneva (not currently available)
This list is likely to grow as there are other very promising vaccines which are currently going through the regulatory process.
Some jurisdictions are beginning to approve certain vaccines for children aged under 16 and we expect the number of options available to children to increase. At the present time Medsafe, the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority, has approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12 and above. The recommendation is for two doses to be given, six weeks apart.
A great deal of research around COVID-19 vaccines is currently underway, and new vaccines are presenting for authorisation at an increasing rate. The information on this page will be reviewed and updated regularly, and all changes to the below list of Healix-approved vaccines will be made with urgency. As vaccines become locally available, all staff and dependants are advised to contact their local medical providers or Healix (MFAT@healix.com or +64 (0) 9 477 4410, option 1.
AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine
The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine is suspected to have an association with the formation of blood clots in some patients. This side effect is extremely rare. For most individuals the benefit of receiving AstraZeneca vaccine far outweighs this tiny risk. The current advice from Healix is as follows:
- If you are aged under 40 and have no underlying health conditions which predispose you to serious COVID, you should consider taking an alternative approved vaccine if one is available. If AstraZeneca vaccine is the only vaccine you can access it is still an appropriate option, and likely a recommended one if you are in a location where COVID-19 risk is high.
- If you have a medical condition which predisposes you to blood clots you should seek medical advice before taking the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- If you have already had one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine you should proceed with your second dose at the scheduled time. This applies to individuals of all ages. The only exceptions are if you suffered a blood clot after your first dose, or if you have a medical condition which predisposes you to blood clots.
- In some locations individuals who have had one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine are being offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for their second dose. Current evidence indicates that this is a safe and effective option.
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine
The Janssen vaccine is associated with a small risk of serious side effects, most commonly the formation of blood clots. For this reason an alternative COVID vaccination should be considered for most patients. Janssen is still a good option for unvaccinated individuals if no other approved COVID vaccination is available.
Emergency use authorisation vs full approval
In exceptional circumstances health authorities may grant a vaccine “emergency use authorisation” prior to the vaccine gaining full approval. These will be situations where there is a very pressing need to act quickly, and where it is felt that the benefits of a faster authorisation process outweigh any likely harms. The COVID-19 pandemic was felt to justify the use of this.
Although emergency use authorisation is faster than the usual full approval process, extensive safety and efficacy evidence must still be provided from clinical trials and the data is subjected to extensive analysis. It is very unlikely that any vaccine which can present enough data to gain emergency use authorisation would subsequently fail full approval.
In the context of the current pandemic Healix considers it appropriate to recommend the use of vaccines which have SRA emergency use authorisation.
The current MFAT policy advice on booster doses is as follows:
Questions are growing across the network regarding the necessity and availability of third doses/booster doses (boosters) of COVID-19 vaccines for staff who have completed the initial two-dose regimen. Booster access varies greatly across the network, and questions such as the utility of mixed-dose regimens and time between second and third doses are under review by national advisory agencies.
For the time being, the Ministry is not actively facilitating boosters and take up, were available, is a matter for individuals. For staff and whānau who are eligible to receive or are offered a booster dose in their particular location (generally staff over a certain age or medically at-risk), whether through a national rollout or through other foreign missions, and who wish to take this up, we recommend you seek medical advice from Healix (SNZ) or your medical provider (SEP). The Ministry continues to only facilitate access to vaccines which have been approved by a Stringent Regulatory Authority and endorsed by Healix.
ORD and Healix will be keeping the need for boosters under review as further international evidence emerges and as New Zealand develops its own policy.
Antibody testing following vaccination
Antibody testing is not a reliable guide to whether an individual has immunity to COVID-19 following vaccination. Such testing is therefore not currently recommended.
Detailed information on the vaccines approved for use by MFAT staff, including warnings, precautions and side effects
Click on the name of the vaccine you are interested in to be taken to the Patient Information Leaflet for the vaccine in question. This will provide detailed background information in an easy to understand format.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Healix COVID-19 vaccination team on MFAT@healix.com, and you will receive a response within two business days.
Further information on vaccine science from the World Health Organisation
The WHO has published an easy-to-understand series of explainer articles to help people understand how vaccination works:
Part 1 (link opens external website) focuses on how vaccines work to protect our bodies from disease-carrying germs.
Part 2 (link opens external website) focuses on the ingredients in a vaccine and the three clinical trial phases.
Part 3 (link opens external website) outlines the steps from completing the clinical trial phases through to distribution.
Part 4 (link opens external website) outlines the different types of vaccines.
COVID-19 Vaccine, Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser: COVID-19 Vaccines | Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (pmcsa.ac.nz)
Unite Against COVID-19, Vaccines: COVID-19 vaccines | Unite against COVID-19
NZ Ministry of Health, COVID-19 Vaccines: COVID-19: Vaccines | Ministry of Health NZ
The Immunisation Advisory Centre, COVID-19 Vaccines: COVID-19 vaccines | Immunisation Advisory Centre (immune.org.nz)
If you have any questions, please send your enquiries to MFAT@healix.com and you will receive a response within two business days.
For urgent COVID vaccine related enquiries, please call us +64 (0) 9 477 4410 and choose option 1.