Medsafe assures Kiwis Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will undergo thorough safety check before being released in NZ after allergic reactions

Medsafe is assuring Kiwis that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will only be made available in New Zealand after it has passed thorough safety checks.

It comes after two NHS workers suffered allergic reactions to the vaccine on the first day of the UK rollout. As a result, Britain's medicine regulator has advised people with a history of significant allergies not to get the vaccine. 

The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was investigating the reactions with Pfizer and BioNTech's support. 

On Thursday New Zealand's medicine regulator, Medsafe, said it is aware of the reactions and will be making contact with MHRA to get more information. 

"Medsafe will be closely monitoring the results from further rollout in the UK to find out more about the reported reactions and the overall safety profile of the vaccine," a spokesperson told Newshub. 

"This includes the frequency of some reactions, the severity, and any previously unknown reactions. However we know that no effective vaccine is without side effects." 

Medsafe also offered reassurance that the vaccine will be thoroughly checked before being approved in New Zealand. 

"Safety and efficacy is the priority. As with all medicines, Medsafe will thoroughly evaluate the COVID-19 vaccines to make sure it is safe, effective and appropriate for use in New Zealand.

"No vaccine will be made available for public use until it has completed Medsafe’s assessment process and been approved as safe for use in New Zealand." 

The NHS workers are "recovering well", according to National Health Service medical director Stephen Powis. 

Earlier on Thursday, a top Kiwi vaccinologist urged people not to jump to conclusions because of the reactions. 

University of Auckland associate professor Dr Helen Petousis-Harris told Newshub adverse reactions are unlikely and can occur when a mass campaign begins. 

"Vaccines do have a rare potential for this, but we are talking about one-in-a-million generally. Knowing what is in the vaccine it seems quite unlikely to be given a greater risk than another vaccine to do this," she said.

"We have had experiences here where we have had people fainting and it being thought to be an anaphylactic reaction because they can present in a similar way. So I think we need to be really careful when these things happen that they are investigated properly and that we have good data on them."

The reaction wasn't picked up during the trial according to MHRA chief executive June Raine as reported by Reuters. This is because people with a history of severe adverse allergic reactions to vaccines are excluded from late-stage trials, according to Pfizer.