Coronavirus: Kiwi doctor 'excited' about potential imminent vaccine approval

Medsafe could approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine as soon as Wednesday, a move that has one doctor in New Zealand "excited and hopeful".

If approved, it would lead the way for what would be the country's largest-ever vaccination campaign.

On Tuesday, Medsafe made its assessment of the Pfizer vaccine, which will now be reviewed by the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee.

If it's satisfied, MedSafe could grant provisional approval as soon as Wednesday.

"We're really excited and hopeful that this is a promising sign for New Zealand to support protection from COVID," Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner says.

"The major authorising bodies around the world have approved this, so I would assume it's got excellent data behind it and we are very hopeful."

The ultra-cold freezers that will keep the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine safe have already arrived in New Zealand.

Medsafe approval will be the next step towards getting the vaccines, with border workers and their close contacts at the front of the queue. 

"These are all ways that we could provide a better defence in New Zealand against border failures," epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says.

The vaccine will arrive here in batches of tens of thousands of doses and they'll be stored in special freezers at -70C. From there, they'll be distributed to DHB clinics.

Once outside the deep freeze, they'll have to be used within five days.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is marching ahead despite some concerns about supply.

In the United Kingdom, they've been jabbing hundreds of thousands of people every day, and in Spain, staff at Madrid's frontline hospital against COVID-19 are receiving their second shots.

In the US, Arizona has opened a second around-the-clock mass vaccination site, and South Africa had a hero's welcome for the delivery of its first million vaccines. Pakistan officially received a batch donated by China

But we're taking our time to make sure they're safe and effective.

"The New Zealand approach has been different. Other countries with high rates of disease have moved more rapidly with emergency approval," Dr Turner says.

"New Zealand has got more accumulated data both from clinical trials and from the post-trial rollouts."

She says the vaccine is no magic bullet, but it's a crucial shot in the fight against COVID-19.

The announcement is expected tomorrow afternoon.