Saturday, 27 Nov 2021

Covid-19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Chronically ill patients confused by mixed messaging around vaccine

Patients who have been clinically advised to wait for the Novavax Covid vaccine due to severe medical conditions are confused by the Ministry of Health’s messaging.

They want assurance that they would be prioritised for Novavax as soon as it’s certified by MedSafe – even if that’s not until early next year.

But despite the clinical advice these patients say they had been given, health officials continued to say there were “no significant safety concerns from having the Pfizer vaccine”.

One specialist spoken to by the Herald also said there was no reason for these patients to be waiting.

Wellington father, Phil Jones, contracted rotavirus when he was 32 years old from his son, who brought the bug home from daycare.

Rotavirus is highly infectious virus of the gut that can be particularly severe for adults.

The infection landed Jones in hospital for a week and half and he suffered three heart attacks as a result.

Now 44, due to his heart trauma, he is vulnerable to further attacks if he contracts any kind of virus and, he said, his doctor had told him to “wait for other vaccine options”.

“I’m keen to get vaccinated but for the time being I’m sure as hell not taking the chance on Pfizer because it is highly likely I will get an attack and end up back in hospital,” Jones said.

“It feels like I’d be playing with fire.”

He’s not the only one in this situation.

A 57-year-old Auckland woman, who asked not to be named out of fear of being targeted as anti-vax, said she had a serious undiagnosed immune illness and had been “strongly advised” by her rheumatologists to wait for the Novavax vaccine.

“He told me that due to my condition it was likely I would have a severe inflammatory response to the Pfizer vaccine, causing unknown harm to my connective tissue,” she said.

She said, for her and everyone else in her situation, she wished there was a register for people to sign up to that said “I’ve been clinically advised to take Novavax for the safety of my own body.”

“We just want some assurance that everyone who has been advised to wait for the Novavax can get fully vaccinated with Novavax because right now it feels like there is no guarantee,” she said.

Another woman, who was a nurse but hadn’t been practising during the Delta outbreak, lived with mastocytosis – which is a rare genetic condition caused by an excess number of mast cells gathering in the body’s tissues.

Her illnesses meant she was susceptible to all sorts of reactions from food, medication and other chemicals.

It had left her severely ill for the past seven years.

“My immunologist will say get the vaccine in hospital because we can handle anaphylaxis
better than Covid but looking overseas there have been quite a few mastocytosis patients who have reacted to the mRNA vaccines and Novavax seemed to be safer.”

If she had a flare-up, she said, it meant months of being sick.

“I’ve only just got stable in the past 12 months … for me the thought of doing something that is potentially going to put me back there is scary.”

But a Ministry of Health spokesman said there had been “no significant safety concerns” from having the Pfizer vaccine have been identified for patients who are likely to be immunocompromised in New Zealand.

“Immunocompromised people have a higher risk of getting a serious infection if exposed to Covid-19, so receiving two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce this risk.”

He said anyone severely immunocompromised should discuss the timing of their vaccination with their doctor or specialist, as clinicians would always be best placed to advise their patients.

Novavax had submitted an application to Medsafe for its Covid-19 vaccine to be used in New Zealand but further data was needed before any decisions could be made.

Following Medsafe’s regulatory decision on the safety and effectiveness of the Novavax vaccine and once delivery schedules had been confirmed, its use in New Zealand would be considered, the spokesman said.

“The currently delivery timeframe for the Novavax vaccine is early  2022.”

Rheumatologist Andrew Harrison echoed these comments saying it was definitely not better to wait for Novavax.

“The Pfizer vaccine does not affect control of disease activity and is safe in patients with rheumatological conditions,” Harrison said.

“It is available now, and everyone should get vaccinated as soon as possible. There is no reason to believe that the Novavax vaccine would be a better option for people with autoimmune conditions.”

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