Covid-19 vaccination

Covid-19 vaccination is important for all New Zealanders, especially those at greater risk because of high blood pressure or a heart condition. We explain how Covid-19 vaccines work, their benefits, and possible side effects.

A happy, smiling senior man with a plaster on his upper arm indicating an injection site

In this article

Catching Covid-19 can be a risk to your heart health. If you’ve already got a heart condition, you’re at greater risk of being seriously ill or dying from the Covid-19 virus. Research also shows that even if you don’t have a heart condition, catching Covid- 19 increases your risk of developing a heart condition in the future.

The single best thing you can to reduce this risk and protect your heart is to get a Covid-19 vaccination.

If you have the vaccine, you’re less likely to catch the virus. If you do catch it, you’re a lot less likely to need hospital treatment or die as a result. That’s why we strongly recommend not only people living with heart disease, but all New Zealanders get the vaccine.

Vaccine safety

The Covid-19 vaccinations are assessed for safety by Medsafe, the organisation that monitors medication safety in New Zealand.

Medsafe only grants approval once it is satisfied the international evidence shows benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Medsafe also continues to monitor the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines.

Myocarditis and pericarditis are very rare side effects of the Pfizer vaccine. You’re at greater risk of developing myocarditis as a result of catching the virus than you are from having the vaccine.

Blood clots are a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Are vaccines safe for people with heart conditions?

Yes, the vaccine is safe for the very large majority of people with heart conditions. In fact, your heart is at greater risk from the virus than it is from getting the vaccine. People who’ve had a recent case of myocarditis or pericarditis from a different cause can still have the vaccine but will need to discuss the timing and choice of vaccine with their doctor.

Are vaccines safe if I’m on heart medication?

Yes. You can get your vaccination and continue to take your heart medication as usual. Let your vaccinator know if you’re on blood-thinning medication. You may experience a little more bruising at the injection site, so it’s a good idea to press for a little longer on the site after your injection.

Covid-19 vaccination and heart inflammation

A very small number of myocarditis and pericarditis cases (inflammation of the heart) have been reported following the Pfizer vaccine.

Recent research suggests the rate of myocarditis that occurred as a result of the vaccine, was approximately three in every 100,000 people vaccinated. Most of these cases have been mild. The research also shows that you’re more likely to get myocarditis after catching the Covid-19 virus, than you are to get it from the vaccination.

In summary, the benefits of Pfizer vaccination far outweigh the very small risk.

If you experience any symptoms such as chest discomfort, breathlessness or palpitations after your vaccination, please seek medical advice.

Which vaccines have been approved in New Zealand?

Four vaccines have been approved for use in New Zealand:

  • Pfizer
  • AstraZeneca
  • Novavax
  • Janssen.

Pfizer is the main vaccine being used in New Zealand. If you are 18 or over and can’t have the Pfizer vaccine or you want an alternative, it’s possible to get the AstraZeneca or Novavax vaccine. The Janssen vaccine is not currently available.

Pfizer

The Pfizer vaccine is available free to anyone in New Zealand aged 12 years and older. A version of the Pfizer vaccine is also available for New Zealanders aged 5 to 11 years.

The adult Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses. You must wait at least three weeks after your first dose, before getting the second. For people aged 18 and over, you can also get a booster dose.

AstraZeneca

The AstraZeneca vaccine is available for anyone aged 18 or older who can’t get the Pfizer vaccine or wants a different option. It is free.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is given in two doses. You need to wait at least four weeks before you get the second dose.

The large majority of side effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine are mild.

Blood clots are a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is reported in around 1 in 100,000 people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Very rare cases of capillary leak syndrome (CLS) and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) have also been reported. You can read more about these side effects on the Covid-19 website.

This vaccine is being offered at limited sites, so you’ll need to book in advance or call the Vaccination Healthline on 0800 282 926.

Novavax

The Novavax vaccine is available for anyone aged 18 or older who wants a different option. It is free.

Novavax is given in two doses, three or more weeks apart.

A rare side effect after Novavax is severe allergic reaction. At this stage, information about other side effects is limited, as this vaccine has been less widely used worldwide.

This vaccine is being offered at limited sites, so you’ll need to book in advance or call the Vaccination Healthline on 0800 282 926.

Who shouldn’t get a Covid-19 vaccine?

If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after any other vaccination, talk to your doctor or nurse before getting any Covid-19 vaccination. 

If you’re getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, talk to your doctor or nurse if you: 

  • have had a severe allergic reaction to this vaccine or its ingredients 
  • have had a major blood clot at the same time as having low levels of platelets (thrombocytopenia) after receiving any CovidOVID-19 vaccine  
  • have had Capillary Leak Syndrome (CLS – a condition causing fluid leakage from small blood vessels). 

If you’ve had myocarditis or pericarditis following your first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, talk to your doctor before getting a second dose or booster. 

Vaccination boosters

Getting your booster will give you and your whānau greater protection from Covid-19, including Omicron.

A booster is particularly important for people who are at high risk from Covid-19. This includes people with heart conditions and high blood pressure.

People aged 18 or over

If you’re 18 or over, you can get a free booster dose if:

  • you’ve already had the first two doses
  • it has been at least three months since your last dose
  • it has been at least three months since a Covid-19 infection.

If you have a pre-existing condition that puts you at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19, such as heart disease, you are encouraged to get a booster as soon as possible.

People aged 16 or 17

If you’re 16 or 17, you can get a free booster dose if:

  • you’ve already had the first two doses
  • it has been at least six months since your last dose
  • it’s been at least three months since a Covid-19 infection.

Second booster for at-risk groups

If you’re at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, such as people living with heart disease, you will be able to get a second booster, six months after the first booster.

Booking is expected to open for second boosters in early July 2022.

Vaccination for children

Children aged 5 to 11 can get a child’s Pfizer vaccination, which is a lower dose than the adult vaccination.

The child’s vaccination is given in two doses at least eight weeks apart. It is also given with a smaller needle.

What if my child has a heart condition?

If your child has a heart condition, they are at greater risk of getting seriously ill as a result of catching the Covid-19 virus. The best way to keep them safe is to get them vaccinated.

You can find out more by contacting Starship Hospital.

Should I get the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine?

The Covid-19 vaccination won’t protect you from the flu, so if you’ve got a heart condition or you’re in another high-risk group, it’s important to get your annual flu vaccination as well. 

Should I get a Covid-19 vaccination if I’ve had the Covid-19 virus?

Even if you’ve had Covid-19 it’s still important to get a Covid-19 vaccination and booster. Getting a vaccination keeps your immunity high and can help protect you against future variants.

You’ll need to wait three months before getting any Covid-19 vaccination.

A gap of three months gives your immune system time to recover from the infection and get the most benefit from vaccination. If you get the vaccine sooner, your immune response is not as strong.

If you are at a particularly high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19, talk to your doctor about whether they think you should get the vaccine sooner.

How do I get a vaccination?

Vaccines are available at national vaccination centres and at a lot of GP surgeries and chemists.

You can book a vaccination online or make an appointment over the phone by calling the Covid-19 Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26.

More questions about the Covid- 19 vaccination and your heart?

Call one of our heart health nurses on 0800 863 375.

Find out about Covid-19 and the heartLearn more about long Covid