Two new vaccines against COVID-19 have been secured by the Government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.
The landmark announcement means the Government has now pre-ordered 15 million vaccine courses to date - enough for every New Zealander to be immunised against the virus, plus the Pacific.
The Government has acquired access to 7.6 million doses of the vaccine developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and 10.72 million doses from American vaccine development business Novavax.
As immunisation requires two doses to be administered, the agreed quantities will be enough to vaccinate 3.8 million people and 5.36 million people respectively.
"If proven to be safe and effective by New Zealand's pharmaceuticals regulator Medsafe, they will provide broad population coverage for New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours," Ardern said on Thursday.
"This will be New Zealand's largest immunisation roll out ever."
The new agreements follow the Government's deal with American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, securing 1.5 million doses of its vaccine - enough to immunise 750,000.
The four pre-purchase agreements secured to date are:
- 750,000 courses from Pfizer/BioNTech;
- 5 million courses from Janssen;
- 3.8 million courses from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
- 5.36 million courses from Novavax.
In Thursday's announcement, Ardern confirmed that the Government's strategy is to purchase different types of vaccine technology to ensure alternatives are available in the event that some are unsuccessful. The pre-purchase agreements in place cover three different variations of vaccine technology.
Ardern confirmed that border staff, frontline healthcare workers, managed isolation and quarantine employees and their household contacts - those at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 - will be prioritised before the country rolls out its mass vaccination campaign for the general public.
Health Minister Andrew Little confirmed this will further strengthen our border.
"The aim of this approach is to create a layer of protection around the country to prevent any spread of COVID-19 into our communities," he said on Thursday.
Vaccination of frontline workers is expected to begin during the second quarter of 2021, followed by the public - in stages - from the third quarter.
"Our aim is to then commence vaccination of the general public in the second half of the year. All vaccine roll out will be dependent on Medsafe sign off, which we are streamlining, and speed of manufacture," Ardern said. "We are moving as fast as we can, but we also want to ensure the vaccine is safe for New Zealanders.
"This will be a sustained roll out over months, not weeks, but our pre-purchase agreements means New Zealand is well positioned to get on with it as soon as it is proven safe to do so."
Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods said the agreements ensure New Zealand is invested in a range of options.
"As there are no guarantees that all the vaccines will successfully complete clinical trials, or be approved for use, this approach ensures we are able to access safe and effective vaccines at the earliest possible time," Woods said.
"Our plan is to ensure no-one misses out, even if it means we've purchased more than we need. It's an investment worth making."
She noted that the Government is not ruling out other purchases if required.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said preparations are progressing well to ensure the country's largest ever immunisation programme runs smoothly. Roughly 12,000 health professions are already able to administer vaccines and more will be trained, he said. The Ministry of Health will have an inventory management system for the vaccines, with accurate information regarding their locations and the temperature in central storage facilities.
The ministry has also purchased nine -80 degree Celsius freezers capable of storing more than 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They are on track to arrive by the end of the year.
Hipkins noted that Kiwis should not get their hopes up for an open border anytime soon, as commencing immunisation does not mean any changes will be made in the first instance.
"Our border remains the first line of defence against COVID-19 from imported cases. To make any decisions around borders, we need to be confident that the New Zealand population is sufficiently protected," he said.
"It means we will need information on whether the COVID-19 vaccines are effective at providing individuals with protection from contracting the virus and reducing transmission - and a gradual building towards population immunity, which will take time."
All vaccinations will be free.
In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Associate Foreign Affairs Minister Aupito William Sio announced that New Zealand is prepared to support its Pacific partners in accessing safe and effective vaccines against the virus.
Mahuta confirmed $75 million of Official Development Assistance had been earmarked to support Pacific and global vaccine access and roll-out.
New Zealand's approach will be to purchase enough vaccines to cover the Realm of New Zealand (Tokelau, Niue and the Cook Islands) and its Polynesian neighbours (Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu) should their governments wish to take these up.