The Government has stated people with certain underlying medical conditions are considered a priority for the Covid-19 vaccine, but it is ‘working to finalise guidance’ on which conditions these are. (File photo)
Less than a month out from when New Zealanders with certain health conditions will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, it remains unclear exactly what these conditions are.
Under the Government’s vaccine roll-out plan, vaccines for group 3 – about 1.7 million people at higher risk if they catch Covid-19, including those 65 and those with underlying health conditions – are due to begin in May.
But with just three weeks until then, the Ministry of Health is still “working to finalise guidance” on the health conditions or disabilities that qualify someone for early access to the vaccine, based on the “latest evidence”.
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On Friday, Jo Gibbs, the national director of immunisation of the ministry’s Covid-19 Vaccine and Immunisation Programme, told Stuff it would publish updated information “as soon as we can” – which it expects to be within the next fortnight.
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Group 3 includes over 75s, those over 65, and people with underlying health conditions, in that order.
The current guidance from the Ministry of Health says relevant health conditions include coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/chronic respiratory conditions, kidney disease and cancer.
It also includes people who are pregnant.
This week, HIV support organisation Body Positive called for the Government to allow those living with HIV – a virus which attacks the immune system – to be included in group 3, as they are at greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
Gibbs said based on the latest evidence, officials expect that if someone is eligible for a free flu vaccine – which includes those with HIV – they would likely be included in group 2 if they live in the Counties Manukau DHB district, or in group 3 if they live elsewhere.
There may also be some other specific conditions included, she said, but did not elaborate on what these could be.
Gibbs said the guidance would be updated once this has been confirmed, and said: “We apologise that we cannot give you a more definite answer, and appreciate your patience”.
At this stage, officials do not expect people will need to provide proof of their health condition to the vaccinator, who could also be their regular GP, she said.
Body Positive executive director Mark Fisher said the organisation contacted the Minister of Health and Covid-19 response team about the issue on in early March, but hadn’t heard back until this week.
Fisher said including people with HIV in group 3 would align with the Australian vaccine roll-out, which includes those with HIV in group 1b, currently being vaccinated.
“It is vital that people living with HIV are vaccinated as early as possible to ensure they don’t experience severe disease and potentially death.”
If a person has a health condition or disability that does not qualify them for early access, they will be able to access the vaccine from July, alongside the rest of the population.