New Zealand Approves First Covid-19 Vaccine, Awaits Delivery

New Zealand’s medicines regulator has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for domestic use once it arrives in the country.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the decision by Medsafe on Wednesday, saying the nation can now begin preparations for the first stage of its coronavirus vaccination rollout. The approval is provisional on the drug companies keeping the authority updated with data from clinical trials and manufacturing processes.

“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,” Ardern said in a statement. “It is informed by the most up-to-date medical and scientific data. We can have confidence in their decision.”

New Zealand has successfully eliminated community transmission of Covid-19 but its border remains closed to foreigners, hurting key industries such as tourism. Vaccines are seen as a way of allowing more visitors in but Ardern has warned the border could be closed to the world through most of 2021 as the pandemic continues to run rampant overseas.

The government has faced criticism for a delay in accessing vaccines when other nations are already treating people. Ardern has said it is understandable that countries facing a rising death toll should get the vaccines first. However, she has expressed concern that the European Union may restrict vaccine exports.

New Zealand plans a mass vaccination program starting in the third quarter, but the government is anticipating having some doses earlier in order to immunize border workers and other front-line staff.

“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, “ Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in the statement. “Once vaccination of our border workers starts, we expect it to be completed within two to three weeks.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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