New Zealand health authorities are investigating claims that a man received up to 10 Covid-19 vaccine doses in one day on behalf of other people.
The Ministry of Health said it was taking the matter seriously. “We are very concerned about this situation and are working with the appropriate agencies,” its Covid-19 vaccination and immunisation spokesperson, Astrid Koornneef, said.
The man is believed to have visited several immunisation centres and was paid to get the doses.
In New Zealand, vaccines can either be booked through a website, via a doctor, or people can turn up to walk-in centres. To get a jab, one must provide the health care worker with their name, date of birth and physical address, but no further identification is required.
“To assume another person’s identity and receive medical treatment is dangerous. This puts at risk the person who receives a vaccination under an assumed identity and the person whose health record will show they have been vaccinated when they have not,” Koornneef said.
“This could affect how their health is managed in the future.”
The ministry urged anyone who has had more vaccine doses than recommended to seek clinical advice.
Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris, from the University of Auckland, said there was no specific data on using the vaccine this way, but the man was not likely to come to serious harm.
“We know that higher doses result in more general vaccine reactions, like fever and headaches and pains, so you might anticipate he would feel pretty grotty the next day.”
This case was not an isolated one, Petousis-Harris said, adding that she had heard of others being paid to receive the vaccine on someone else’s behalf. People are not required to show photo identification when getting the vaccine, to make the process as accessible as possible, but that makes the system vulnerable to abuse by “a small minority of people,” she said.
“I think it is a very selfish act on the behalf of the buyer, and exploiting, perhaps, somebody who needed to get some money and is willing to take those risks, which is not very community-minded.”
New Zealand is expected to hit its 90% double vaccinated goal for the eligible population – 12 years and older – before Christmas. But a small and vocal cohort of people is reluctant to be immunised.
The country’s new traffic light system, announced by prime minister Jacinda Ardern in late November, ends lockdowns in favour of restrictions on the unvaccinated. The red, orange and green levels depend on vaccination rates and the level of strain on the health system, but even at red – the strictest level – businesses are fully open to the vaccinated, with some restrictions on gathering size.