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Cooling her heals: Vaccine contractor Debbie Swain-Rewi

By PHILIP CHANDLER

Six weeks after an audit found issues with Queenstown’s largest Covid vaccination  centre, affecting 1571 people, it still can’t jab anyone again.

A Southern District Health Board audit found vaccines administered by Engage Safety,
between December 1, last year, and January 28, weren’t stored at the correct ultra-cold temperatures.

As a result, their potency was in doubt, so everyone affected was asked to get re-jabbed.

The company, which had administered about 10,000 vaccines, stopped conducting vaccinations.

It’s now waiting for external reviewers to complete their work and make a  recommendation to the Ministry of Health.

Engage Safety director Debbie Swain-Rewi says the reviewers spent three days at her clinic, two weeks ago.

She’s hoping to have an out come soon, but hasn’t any quibbles about the speed of the process.

‘‘Once the reviewers were appointed, they acted really quickly.’’

While she waits, as Covid rampages through the community, Swain-Rewi’s company also can’t administer the flu vaccine.

Reflecting on the crisis, which appeared to stem from a faulty fridge, she admits being ‘‘100% devastated, and also for the team, because they’d put their hearts and souls into it’’.

‘‘Apart from the people of course who were affected, my staff were my greatest concern — just how it would impact not so much their jobs, ’cos I never considered wanting to get rid of them or having to reduce their hours, but I was concerned about their mana,
how they would feel.’’

She stresses vaccinations are only one part of her health and safety business, while conceding ‘‘I’ve had to re-pivot and do things a little bit differently than how we’d like’’.

She adds ‘‘we’ve had nothing but support and respect from the community, which has been really overwhelming’’.

Scores test positive

 

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Of the 1576 people who received compromised Covid vaccines in the Queenstown-Lakes and Central Otago between, almost 11% have subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Southland MP Joseph Mooney says he submitted several parliamentary written questions to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins about 10 days ago, and received some answers yesterday.

The answers reveal 167 people in the affected vaccine group have since tested positive.

The Southern District Health Board became aware of the issue with Engage Safety’s vaccines on March 2, and that was confirmed on March 4, but the board did not start notifying any of the affected parties until March 7.

By March 21 they were still to contact 374 people, Mooney says.

“There are more questions to be asked, it seems quite concerning and obviously they recognise that themselves now they’ve brought in an independent review team.”

Yesterday, the SDHB announced it’s brought in The DAA Group, one of New Zealand’s leading providers of assessment and evaluation services to the health and disability sectors, to undertake the investigation into the cold chain failure event.

The three-person review team comprises a lead reviewer, a kaumatua with expertise around health quality and risk, and a hospital-based chief pharmacist who is a technical expert on cold chain systems and processes.

The review report is expected to be provided to the board at the end of this month.

In a statement, the DHB says of those affected, more than 62% have since had a replacement dose, 4% have deferred the replacement dose, 16% either intend to, or are yet to decide, and 7% had declined the vaccination.

It says, to date, there are 151 people — 10% — who haven’t been spoken to yet, however, “emails, texts and letters have been sent”.

“The Southern DHB have become aware that for a small number of people contact details have changed, therefore there will be people who have not received sufficient information regarding this incident and their need for a replacement dose.”

On its website, the SDHB said it was following advice from the Immunisation Advisory Agency and Ministry of Health by recommending people receive a replacement dose, because it had been determined the vaccine people received “did not work”.

However, it also says, in the replacement vaccine frequently asked questions section, “the concern is that we cannot guarantee that the vaccine was effective, hence the need to re-vaccinate to protect against Covid”.

Serious concerns: Southland MP Joseph Mooney. PICTURE: Parliament TV

Mooney asked Hipkins how the SDHB determined the vaccine didn’t work.

Hipkins replied the Pfizer vaccine needed to be stored at “very specific temperatures” and due to the cold chain failure, the vaccines in question “experienced temperature events outside of the acceptable range”.

Mooney says he’s concerned by the delay between recognising the issue and contacting those affected, and that there are still people yet to be contacted.

Further, the length of time of the failure “really begs the question what overview they [SDHB] had”.

“There are a tonne of questions, which is, I guess, why they’ve brought in an independent review board.

“It’s a good step,” Mooney says.

ed@scene.co.nz