COVID-19: Vaccine advice for specific groups and health conditions

Get advice on the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re under 16 or over 65 years, pregnant or breastfeeding, have a health condition, getting treatment, scans or taking medication.

Last updated: 26 May 2021

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If you have a specific health condition or any concerns, it’s important to talk to your doctor or medical specialist about the risks and benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Getting other vaccines

If you’re planning to get other vaccines, such as influenza (flu) or Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), you should check the timing of your vaccinations.

We also recommend getting advice if you’ve already had one dose of the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) or a different COVID-19 vaccine overseas.

Getting other vaccines


Under 16 years old

If you’re under the age of 16 you’re not able to get the COVID-19 vaccine at this stage.

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the regulatory authorities in the USA and in Canada for teenagers aged 12 to 15 years. Medsafe has not received an application from Pfizer for use of the vaccine in teenagers.

Studies on the use of the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) for younger age groups are underway but the data is limited at this stage.

COVID-19 vaccines are being thoroughly tested in children under 16 years before they’re approved for this group. We can’t assume the vaccines will act the same way in children as they do in adults.


Over 65 years old

If you’re over 65 years old, both clinical trials and real-world data show that there’s no safety or additional concerns around getting the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty). It has been shown to be highly effective and safe in adults aged over 65 years.


Pregnant

If you’re pregnant, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine as part of Group 3 at any stage of your pregnancy. 

We encourage you to get the vaccine because while you’re pregnant you can become very sick if you get COVID-19.

Data from the large number of pregnant people already vaccinated globally shows that there are no additional safety concerns with giving COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinating during pregnancy may also help protect your baby as there’s evidence that infants can get antibodies to the virus through cord blood and breast milk. 

If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with your healthcare professional

Timings with other vaccines if you’re pregnant


Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding (as with all vaccines on the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule), there are no safety concerns about getting the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty).

When you're vaccinated, this can also provide some protection against COVID-19 for your baby through your breastmilk.


Trying for a baby

If you’re planning a pregnancy you can receive the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty).

The Pfizer vaccine will not affect your genes or fertility. The mRNA from the vaccine does not enter the nucleus of any cells, which is where your DNA is.

No parts of the vaccine or the spike protein produced reach the ovaries or the testes.

How the Pfizer vaccine works


Unwell or have a fever

If you’re unwell on the day of your vaccination or have a fever over 38°C it’s important to delay your COVID-19 vaccine until you’re feeling better.


May have or had COVID-19

If you’re waiting for a COVID-19 test result, you should wait until you get a negative result or have met the criteria to stop isolating before you get vaccinated.

Self-isolation, managed isolation or quarantine

If you’ve had COVID-19

You should have the COVID-19 vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19 (with or without symptoms). We recommend you wait at least 4 weeks after you recover before getting the vaccine.


Had an allergic reaction to any vaccine

If you’ve had a serious or immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or injection in the past, discuss this with your vaccinator.

If you have a history of anaphylaxis

You shouldn’t get the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) if you have a history of anaphylaxis:

  • to any ingredient in the Pfizer vaccine
  • to a previous dose of the Pfizer vaccine).

What’s in the Pfizer vaccine


Underlying health conditions

If you have an underlying health condition, you’re more at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

You can get early access to the COVID-19 vaccine if you are aged 16 years and over, and meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • you have a health condition that means you’re eligible for a free publicly-funded flu vaccination, including pregnant people. Eligibility criteria: Influenza vaccination
  • you have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness (which includes schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, and adults currently accessing secondary and tertiary mental health and addiction services)
  • you have poorly controlled or severe hypertension (hypertension is another name for high blood pressure). In this case, severe is defined as requiring two or more medications for control
  • you are severely obese (defined as a BMI of 40 or higher). BMI calculator

If you are unsure if your health conditions mean you are eligible for earlier access to the vaccination, talk to you doctor or trusted health care professional.

Consistently high efficacy of over 92% was observed in the clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) across age, sex, race, ethnicity, and people with underlying medical conditions.

We'll continue to review the latest evidence on which underlying health conditions could put people at greater risk of getting very sick or dying if they catch COVID-19. 


Disabled people

Disabled people can access the vaccine in Group 2 (i.e. those living in long-term residential settings/communal care, people with complex care needs who have multiple carers supporting their daily life, or who live in the Counties Manukau DHB area). Group 3 includes all other people with a disability and for the purposes of the COVID-19 vaccine, this includes anyone who has an impairment that:

  • is expected to last for six months or longer, and
  • limits their ability to carry out daily activities and/or participate in society on an equal basis to others. This can be due to the interaction of your impairment with societal and environmental barriers such as inaccessibility, rather than caused by the impairment itself.

This includes impairments that are:

  • physical
  • neurological
  • mental/psychiatric
  • intellectual
  • sensory
  • other types of impairment.

Immunocompromised

If you’re immunocompromised, you have a higher risk of getting serious infection if you’re exposed to COVID-19.

You can get the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) when receiving medication or therapy that affects your immune system (immunosuppression). As with all vaccines, you may not respond as strongly as someone with a fully functioning immune system, but it can protect you from becoming very unwell if you get COVID-19.

The best time to be vaccinated is before any planned immunosuppression, but do not delay any treatment.

If you’re severely immunocompromised, discuss the timing of your vaccination with your doctor or specialist. The vaccine can be given at any stage of treatment. You may be able to time your vaccination appointments between rounds of treatment for the best immune response.

To help protect yourself, encourage your family and the people you live with to also get vaccinated when it’s available to them.


Living with HIV

If you have HIV you’re encouraged to be vaccinated. People with HIV were included in clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty). The data specific to this group is not yet available but showed no safety concerns. 

Based on what we know about people living with HIV and their response to other vaccines:

  • you may have a weaker response to some vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine
  • if you have a suppressed viral load you’re likely to have some protection from the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’re newly diagnosed and starting HIV treatment, take advice from your specialist about the timing of your vaccination.

Any medication you’re taking for HIV is not expected to change how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is. The vaccine will not affect your HIV medication.​


Receiving cancer treatment

If you have cancer, you have a higher risk of getting serious infection if you’re exposed to COVID-19 (as with others who are immunocompromised).

At this stage, there’s no evidence that suggests the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) interacts with cancer treatments.

Discuss the timing of your vaccination with your doctor or specialist. Depending on your treatment, you may be able to time your vaccination appointments between rounds of treatment for the best immune response.

Cancer and COVID-19 vaccines – Te Aho o Te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency)


Getting a CT scan

If you’re going for a CT scan after you get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s important to let the radiographer and your doctor know that you’ve recently been vaccinated.

The vaccine can occasionally cause the lymph nodes in your armpit or neck to swell for a few days. This may be seen on CT scans, including those that are used to diagnose and monitor cancers.

If you can, plan to get your COVID-19 vaccine at least 2 weeks before your scan or as soon as you can afterwards. Don’t delay your scan.


Getting a breast screen (mammogram)

If you’re going for breast screening (mammogram or ultrasound) after you get the COVID-19 vaccine, let the radiographer know you’ve recently been vaccinated.

The vaccine can occasionally cause the lymph nodes in your armpit or neck to swell for a few days. This may be seen on the mammogram or ultrasound for up to a few weeks.

Don’t delay your vaccine, or your mammogram or ultrasound.


Taking blood-thinning medication

If you’re on blood-thinning medications or have a bleeding disorder, let your vaccinator know. Because the Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) is given intramuscularly (into the arm), this increases the risk of bleeding for some people on these medications.

The vaccine itself doesn’t have an increased risk.


Taking antibiotics

If you’re taking antibiotics you can get the COVID-19 vaccine as long as you’re not feeling significantly unwell from your infection. You may want to talk this through with your doctor.

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