Coronavirus: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine gets approval in New Zealand

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in New Zealand - and the first delivery could be as early as next month.

Acting COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall on Thursday announced MedSafe had granted provisional approval for the vaccine for individuals 18 and over.

New Zealand penned an advance purchase agreement with the company last year for 7.6 million doses of the jab - enough to provide coverage for 3.8 million Kiwis.

"We are in a fortunate position to now have three vaccines receive provisional approval. Cabinet is yet to consider whether to use the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand," Dr Verrall said.

"However this is an important step towards enabling the donation of AstraZeneca from New Zealand to Pacific countries, where we have made commitments."

The AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.

The first delivery of the jab could be by the end of August, though officials are still working with the pharmaceutical company to confirm the schedule.

Rolling out the Pfizer vaccine remains the Government's priority, however.

"Our immunisation plan in New Zealand remains focused on rolling out the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The workforce is ramping up in line with increased deliveries. 

"We are on track to provide two doses of the Pfizer vaccines to everyone in New Zealand who wishes to have one, by the end of this year. No one will miss out."

Last month, a joint team of New Zealand and UK scientists released the findings of a study looking at the health records of more than 2.5 million Scots who got either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine.

They found while there was a "very small increase" in the risk of a minor and easily treatable blood condition for those getting the AstraZeneca jab, no such risks were identified in the group who got the Pfizer. 

Victoria University of Wellington epidemiologist and professor of population health Colin Simpson, who co-led the research, said it was good news for New Zealand's ongoing vaccine rollout.

"We wanted to investigate the possible link between COVID-19 vaccines and low platelet count, blood-clotting and bleeding events. This was to provide urgently needed information on vaccine safety," he told Newshub.

"Very encouragingly, we didn't identify any increased risk in those receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but what we did find was a very small increase in the risk of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura - IPT, a bit of a mouthful - in those with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine."