Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will arrive in New Zealand next week, earlier than expected.
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Ardern and senior ministers have given a briefing on the country’s coronavirus vaccination programme.
“We should be in a position, providing all goes well, to start vaccinating border workers from next Saturday,” Ardern said.
Over the next two to three weeks, 12,000 workers should be vaccinated, followed by their household contacts. The next priority will be healthcare and essential workers, along with most at-risk groups, in the second quarter of the year.
“It’s going to take all the year to reach everyone,” Ardern said.
Deliveries are expected near weekly, with a batch in the low tens of thousands delivered within the first consignment.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the first batch would be enough to cover all border workers.
“Our advance purchase agreement has us getting just under quarter of a million [courses] in the first quarter. That is going to come in waves.”
The remaining courses will be split of the following two quarters, he said.
The bulk of the freezers required to store the vaccine are in Auckland, with some based in Christchurch. There is enough space in the freezers to hold all batches ordered, Hipkins said.
Pfizer has asked the government not to share information about the exact details of delivery including when and how it is arriving, he said.
“Obviously one of the important things for us is that once they have been deposited in our freezers and we take ownership of them, we then have checks to do to make sure they’ve been kept at the right temperature all of the way through their journey and they are safe to use.”
This process will take a couple of days, he said.
On Wednesday, it was announced that New Zealand authorities had given formal approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to be administered to those 16 years and older once stocks arrived in the country. The authorisation by Cabinet ministers came after the vaccine was given provisional approval by Medsafe last week.
Hipkins said border workers would be vaccinated at their workplaces and their household contacts would be asked to go to a dedicated place to get their jabs.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the vaccine comes in vials that can contain up to six doses. Vaccinators need to undertake training for this specific vaccine because of this.
“There is some additional logistics around the administration of this vaccine because it comes in vials that contain…initially five but now can have up to six doses and there’s a separate dilutent that has to be added to that vial, mixed and then the doses drawn out very carefully.”
The prime minister said she expected there would be very good uptake of the vaccine among border workers. Those who were reluctant to take the vaccine may be moved to another position that took them off the front line, she said.
“This is a really important milestone, but it’s just that, one of many that we will have over this year,” Ardern said.
She said the government was working through issues in order to provide similar levels of vaccination in the Pacific at the same time as protection is provided in New Zealand.