By Syed Mujeeb
Auckland: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed Medsafe’s provisional approval of New Zealand’s first COVID-19 vaccine.
“The provisional approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a positive step in New Zealand’s fight against COVID-19. It means we can now begin preparations for the first stage in our vaccination roll-out,” Jacinda Ardern said.
“Medsafe provides independent advice to the Government and approves all medicines and vaccines available in New Zealand. Approval has been a very carefully considered and robust process, with safety the key priority.
“Medsafe’s decision is the culmination of a rigorous assessment process over many months to ensure the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective to use here. It is informed by the most up to date medical and scientific data. We can have confidence in their decision.
“They’ve been in regular contact with medicines regulators around the world where the vaccine is already being rolled out. Allowing some time to study the vaccine roll-out overseas has provided extra assurance before starting our vaccination programme here.
“New Zealand is in a fortunate position in not having any current community outbreaks or transmission of COVID-19. Those most at risk of getting COVID-19 will receive the vaccine first, with the broader community accessing the vaccine from the second half of the year.
“Subject to the expected delivery of the first batch of the vaccine, we will start vaccinating first our border workers and the people they live with. People such as cleaners, the nurses who undertake health checks in MIQ, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to get the vaccine.
“Vaccinating our frontline staff will provide a critical additional line of defence to keep them well and to help prevent COVID-19 entering the community. It’s an extra layer to help protect New Zealanders and our economy against a future outbreak,” Jacinda Ardern said.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides a green light for the first phase of the vaccination programme in New Zealand to begin.
“Following Medsafe’s approval, the Ministry of Health officials will give advice to the Government this week about the ‘decision to use’ the vaccine. This will essentially set out who is most suited to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, such as age ranges,” Chris Hipkins said.
“We expect the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines will arrive in New Zealand by the end of the first quarter, but we are making sure everything is in place in case there is an earlier arrival.
“Once vaccination of our border workers starts, we expect it to be completed within two to three weeks.
“I want to acknowledge the global efforts towards developing this vaccine and others, which have been given to millions of people around the world,” Chris Hipkins said.
Jacinda Ardern said the Government will be encouraging all New Zealanders to get vaccinated.
“I have said 2021 is the Year of the Vaccine. It’s a full-year programme we have only just begun. We’re not in a race to be first, but to ensure safe and timely access to vaccines for all New Zealanders.
“Getting vaccinated will save lives, and this is the next job of the team of five million.
“We have come far in the fight against COVID; getting vaccinated is key to locking in the gains we have made and protecting our hard won freedoms.”