New Zealand’s first COVID-19 vaccine may be approved by Medsafe in around one week’s time.

The Government is making swift progress towards vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but is absolutely committed to ensuring the vaccines are safe.

Medicines regulator Medsafe will seek advice and recommendations from the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC) next Tuesday, about the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.

The Ministerial expert advisory committee will review Medsafe’s benefit-risk assessment of the pharmaceutical company’s data and, depending on feedback, Medsafe may be able to grant provisional approval as soon as the following day.

Medsafe’s process not only ensures New Zealanders can feel confident in the vaccines we receive, it’s also been timely and means we will be ready to receive and administer vaccines as soon as Pfizer is in a position to send them.

If granted, the provisional approval will mean that Medsafe has sufficient information and assurance of both safety and effectiveness for it to allow vaccination to start – though there will be continued monitoring of the vaccine here and overseas.

However, if Medsafe decides next week that some additional assurances are required before it grants approval, they are making the right decision on behalf of all New Zealanders.

It’s vital for New Zealanders to know that Medsafe is undertaking robust assessments of this vaccine and others so that we can be confident they’re safe and effective. It streamlined its approval processes for faster access, but it hasn’t cut any corners along the way.

Safety is paramount and we want to be assured of this and also allow all New Zealanders the same opportunity of protection as other countries.

Rolling out New Zealand’s largest ever vaccination campaign

We’ve always known a safe and effective vaccine is a vital part of our COVID-19 response for our long-term control of the virus. 2021 is Year of the Vaccine. 

The COVID-19 vaccines will play a critical role in protecting New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing and, over time, will be a big step back to normality.

The first focus will be vaccinating our border and managed isolation and quarantine workforce and their close contacts. Once the vaccine arrives in New Zealand, we expect to be able to complete vaccinating this group within two to three weeks.

Our frontline staff have been protecting our country from this global pandemic during the past year and protecting them and those who share their households is a priority.

That will be the start of New Zealand’s largest ever vaccination campaign. And that will take some time and the most important thing is when we finish not when we start. However we do intend to get our front line staff vaccinated as soon as possible. Doing so will add another layer to our border defences. We hope to start vaccinating the wider population mid-year.