New Zealand catching up to allies on COVID-19 vaccines but mass roll-out won't begin until mid-year

Finally, the jab is just around the corner - New Zealand could have approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as soon as next Wednesday. 

If successful the first doses would go to border and quarantine workers and their families - that will take just two to three weeks once the vaccine arrives in the country. 

The mass vaccination programme still won't begin until mid-year and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says border restrictions will stay in place most of the year. 

The UK has already started rolling out vaccines and so has the United States and Canada. As of Monday Australia joined the gang with its regulator approving the Pfizer jab - all our best mates rolling out vaccines - and finally we're catching up. 

"It will be the start of New Zealand's largest-ever vaccination campaign and that will take some time," Ardern told reporters on Tuesday. 

Starting as soon as next week, the Pfizer vaccine could be approved - then we just need to get our hands on it.

"Pharmaceutical companies will be looking at the relative position of countries like Australia and New Zealand relative to other places where people are dying every day in large numbers," Ardern said. "So yes, that will have an effect."

The vaccine should arrive by the end of March - hopefully sooner. Border workers will be the first jab off the rank, then other priority groups, before the rest of the country mid-year.

The Government can't say when it will wrap. But regardless, it may become an annual thing.

"Viruses mutate," Ardern said. "This is why we will need to in the long-run have an approach to COVID much like the management - once we have that mass vaccination programme - like we do with the flu."

The Northland COVID-19 scare and arrival of the more deadly, contagious variants heaped pressure on the Government to hustle - and hustle hard.

"New Zealanders were told that New Zealanders would be at the front of the queue for vaccines and it turns out we can't even see the queue," said National leader Judith Collins. 

Collins waged a war on COVID-19 in her State of the Nation speech on Tuesday. It was perhaps not the most rousing speech for all present but she did declare COVID-19 National's number one priority. 

"It's not good enough," she said of the Government's vaccination programme. "We need to match Australia's schedule."

In Australia, by October, everyone over 16 years old will be vaccinated. But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that it won't mean travel will return to normal. 

"It's important to understand once the vaccines start, that doesn't mean you can jump on a plane to Bali the next day," he told a news conference. 

New Zealand is in line for 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. You need two shots - so it covers 750,000 New Zealanders. We also have agreements with Oxford AstraZeneca for 3.8 million people, Novovax for 5.4 million, and Janssen Pharmaceutical for 5 million.

"We will feel like it has returned to normal when there is a certain level of normality in the rest of the world too," Ardern said. 

And right now - there's anything but.