Coronavirus: Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine approvals in New Zealand expected next week - Jacinda Ardern

The Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be approved by New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe by next week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

"We're making swift progress towards vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but we're also absolutely committed to ensuring the vaccines are safe and effective," she said on Tuesday.

"Medicines regulator Medsafe will seek advice and recommendations from the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC) next Tuesday, about the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.

"The Ministerial expert advisory committee will review Medsafe's benefit-risk assessment of the pharmaceutical company's data and, depending on feedback, Medsafe may be able to grant provisional approval as soon as the following day."

Ardern's announcement follows criticism from National and ACT who questioned why New Zealand had not yet received any coronavirus vaccines despite Bloomberg data showing 51 countries had already administered them.

National leader Judith Collins said on Tuesday vaccinating frontline border staff is an "economic and moral imperative".

"For many, the cost of another lockdown would mean they lose their job, their business or their home. Our geographical isolation shouldn't allow the Government to be complacent."

The Ministry of Health told Newshub last week that Medsafe was still waiting for data from COVID-19 vaccine developers to make an assessment and begin the process to approve them for use.  

An update from Ardern's office on Tuesday said the first set of data from Pfizer was received last November, with a "large" amount of additional data received last week.

"After assessing it, we've asked them some questions, for which we've requested a response in a week. Normally we'd give companies four months to respond."

The Government has invested in a portfolio of four vaccines - 750,000 doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, 5 million from Janssen, 3.8 million from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, and 5.36 million from Novavax.

COVID-19 Response Minister said last week that New Zealand will receive its first shipment of vaccines before the end of March for border workers. The general population will start receiving jabs in the second half of the year.

But Hipkins also confirmed that the Government has requested a small number of early doses to give at-risk workers. The Government is making sure everything is in place in case of an earlier arrival.

The update from Ardern's office said the Government "acknowledges that there is international pressures for Pfizer and BioNTech to prioritise countries that have serious community transmission of COVID-19".

The Government has set aside almost $1 billion from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines. It will be New Zealand's largest immunisation roll out ever.

There are also plans for 2000-3000 extra full time vaccinators who will be trained and available when needed throughout New Zealand. An initial call for expressions of interest has gone out via the COVID-19 surge workforce webpage.

So far more than 1100 people have registered their interest in being involved. More than 1200 people have been trained as provisional vaccinators, ready to complete the COVID-19 vaccine training once available.