Jacinda Ardern confirms Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in New Zealand mid-February

The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will arrive next week and border workers will get jabs from next Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced. 

The first shipment of vaccines will be in the low tens of thousands and will arrive by air. The bulk will be kept in Auckland where approved freezers are available to store the vaccines, which require two doses and must be stored at -70C.

"We have been working behind the scenes to secure the timely arrival of vaccines for our border workers and their families and it's great they will arrive well within our scheduled timeframes," Ardern said on Friday. 

"Government representatives have been in conversations with Pfizer on a constant basis for the last few weeks. We appreciate the effort the company has gone to deliver the first instalment earlier than originally anticipated."

The priority is border workers, who are expected to be vaccinated within two to three weeks followed by their household contacts. Healthcare and essential workers and those most at risk from COVID-19 will follow, before vaccination of the wider population in the second half of the year.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the first vaccinations to border workers are on track to be administered in the same week as the vaccine's arrival in New Zealand.

"Systems and processes are in place for the first vaccinations to start once final checks have been completed," said Hipkins. 

"On arrival, the vaccine must be independently tested for quality assurance, which is another important safety check. The doses will then be formally released to start the first phase of the vaccination programme.

"At this stage, we are expecting to start offering the vaccine to our border and [managed isolation and quarantine] workers on February 20, with the first immunisations given out to those working in the Auckland region."

The Government officially gave the Pfizer vaccine the green light earlier this week, following approval given by New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe last week, clearing the way for 750,000 doses to arrive in New Zealand. 

Following Medsafe's provisional approval, the COVID-19 Vaccine Technical Advisory Group (CVTAG) made recommendations on the 'decision to use', which the Government endorsed on Wednesday

Since the CVTAG does not have safety evidence to support the use of Pfizer for children aged under 16, it recommended only using it on people that age and above - same as the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - but this could be reconsidered when more detail is made available.

The CVTAG also recommended that adequate information is provided about the vaccine, particularly around expected common side effects, such as fever, muscle pain and fatigue. A 30-minute observation period is recommended after the vaccine has been administered.

Patients receiving specific therapies - such as cancer drugs Keytruda and Opdivo, and antibody medicines Yervoy and Tecentriq - should not receive the vaccine. Pregnant women are advised to discuss the risks and benefits of receiving the Pfizer vaccine, but it has been deemed safe for use in women who are lactating. 

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.

New Zealand will play a role in ensuring the Pacific Islands get their share of vaccinations, those participating in the Polynesian Health Corridors programme, which includes the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.