COVID-19: Other countries need coronavirus vaccine more urgently than New Zealand - expert

An immunologist says fast-tracking New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccine rollout isn't the answer and believes the Government has its plan right.

National and ACT are calling for the vaccine rollout in New Zealand to be fast-tracked, especially for border workers. The UK expects every adult in its population to be vaccinated by September while New Zealand's vaccine rollout isn't expected to start until the second quarter of this year.

But University of Auckland Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner says other countries need the vaccine more urgently.

"We should not just be suddenly rushing vaccines when we're in a very privileged position from other countries in the world," Dr Turner told Newshub on Monday. "Other countries in the world have got significant emergencies with people dying in large numbers.

"New Zealand's main focus, right now, needs to be continuing to maintain our border and our quarantine safety, and to watch for any community transmission."

Dr Turner said getting the vaccine later means officials will also have more safety information on hand. The Ministry of Health said on Monday it was closely monitoring reports several elderly people had died in Norway after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

"The other issue is if we rush the vaccine too quickly into New Zealand without going through our regulatory approach, we will have people in our community saying, 'why did you rush of you didn't need to?'

"Even with a couple more months, we will have extra safety data on the vaccine. The world is learning a lot right now - and that is going to be incredibly important when we're able to come to the New Zealand community and say, 'we've got a lot of data on these vaccines and how they act,'" Dr Turner said.

She also warned New Zealand can't rely on vaccines to eradicated COVID-19.

"Vaccines are coming and they will come but they're not going to stop our problems - they're not a magic panacea."

COVID-19 Response Minister confirmed on Monday New Zealand won't have vaccine doses in the country until March, with mass vaccinations to get underway in winter.

"We're expecting three different types of vaccine to be arriving in the second quarter - so that's before the middle of the year," he told The AM Show. "That's when we'll start to see the bigger, public rollout and making the vaccine available to everybody."

The Ministry of Health said on Monday Medsafe would be thoroughly evaluating any COVID-19 vaccine to ensure safety and effectiveness.

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