Coronavirus: NZ set to buy more of Pfizer's vaccine after 'good news' - Megan Woods

The Government is still shopping around for COVID-19 vaccines, even though it's already got a deal to buy one that appears to work.

Early signs are the BNT162b2 vaccine, made by US pharma giant Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, is 90 percent effective. Its final trial involving more than 40,000 people is still underway, but it seems those in the trial who got the vaccine are far less likely to have contracted the deadly virus than those in the control group given a placebo.

There have also been no major side-effects reported.

Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods told The AM Show it was 'good news' the vaccine appears to work even better than its creators expected. Most flu vaccines are about 50 percent effective, for example.

"What we're waiting for is the clinical trials to be completed - they're still underway, then obviously the peer review. 

"While everyone wants a vaccine really quickly, everyone also wants to know it's a safe vaccine. While we may be doing things at pace, that we're not compromising on any of the checks we put in place."

New Zealand in October secured a deal to buy 1.5 million doses - enough for 750,000 people - on the condition the vaccine passed its phase three trials and got regulatory approval.

"Obviously we are continuing talks, that if there is more stock available that we'd like to purchase more. "

Just how much it has cost us remains a secret, Woods in October citing commercial sensitivities. The US in July pre-purchased 100 million doses at US$19.50 each. This week Pfizer and BioNTech said they'd likely charge different amounts per country, acknowledging some have more ability to pay than others.

While the two companies say this is below market rates, Oxfam NZ says it's "the highest among the leading vaccine candidates", saying Pfizer and BioNTech will still get an estimated 80 percent profit margin, and the world's richest nations are "hoarding more than half of the vaccines developed by the companies with the leading five vaccine candidates".

To bring the price down and increase manufacturing capacity, Oxfam said the two firms "must commit to openly sharing their vaccine technology to enabling billions of doses to be made now at the lowest possible price".

Pfizer headquarters in New York.
Pfizer headquarters in New York. Photo credit: Getty

It's not a cheap vaccine to distribute though - BNT162b2 has to be permanently kept at a below-freezing -70C, so getting it around the world will be a logistical nightmare

There are dozens of other labs working to make vaccines - some aiming to get something on the market early, others - like New Zealand's COVID-19 Vaccine Corporation are taking their time, but hoping at a later date to deliver something cheaper and more effective than the first vaccines to hit the market. 

Woods says New Zealand's strategy won't be to put all its eggs in the BNT162b2 basket.

"We are entering into a number of advance purchase agreements with a number of companies, so there are more vaccines coming on through."

As for when the first will be available, Woods is picking early next year - but perhaps not as soon as January or February. 

"In terms of who gets them first, we're currently putting together an immunisation strategy. The Ministry of Health is obviously leading on that. 

"The three main groups of people that we're talking about having initial access to it are those at risk of spreading COVID-19, those at risk of contracting it and those who have higher risks around morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19."