COVID-19: Largest ever shipment of Pfizer vaccines arrives in New Zealand, just days before stock runs out

The Government is breathing a sigh of relief thanks to the largest shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines yet arriving in the country - two days ahead of schedule.

The 150,000 doses arrived late on Sunday afternoon and were taken straight to the storage and distribution centre.

It arrived just in time, as District Health Boards only had enough vaccine doses left to last until Wednesday.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says it's been a mammoth effort.

"Staff worked late last night to pack and get the vaccine ready for shipment by road and air to District Health Boards and vaccination centres around the country today," he said in a statement on Monday morning.

It'll be a huge relief for Hipkins who spent much of last week "biting his nails" and watching shipping trackers - ensuring the vaccines would arrive on time.

"If there's any delay, then that starts to get a bit hairy for us for a day or two," he told The AM Show on Wednesday.

Last year, Hipkins said New Zealand would be "front of the queue" for vaccines against COVID-19. At the time, the first was just coming out of their phase III trials.

New Zealand signed deals for four of them - made by Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. 

Since then, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have run into trouble over concerns about side effects and efficacy against variants, and Novavax is yet to get its candidate out of trials. Meanwhile, the Pfizer vaccine had great success in places where it was rolled out early, particularly in Israel.

New Zealand then changed its strategy, putting all its eggs in the Pfizer basket - knowing this would delay the rollout. 

So far 1,149,608 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in New Zealand. The rollout is in its third stage - people aged over 65 and anyone who is at risk of getting severely ill if they were to catch COVID-19.