Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: ACT leader David Seymour gives Government rare praise over rollout date

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's confirmation that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in New Zealand next week has earned her rare praise from the Opposition. 

Ardern said on Friday the first shipment of vaccines will arrive next week and 12,000 frontline border workers will get jabs from next Saturday. It will take two to three weeks for frontline staff to be inoculated, before the public rollout from mid-year. 

ACT leader David Seymour, who has been pushing for New Zealand to catch up with the 75 countries with vaccination campaigns already underway, said if the Government "was ever going to deliver something early" it was this much-needed vaccine.  

"The Government should be congratulated for getting some Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 confirmed for rollout from next week," Seymour said on Friday, but he also highlighted the role he believes the Opposition played in getting us there. 

"This has been a triumph of constructive Opposition, with ACT putting pressure on since early January for the Government to do better on the vaccine rollout in the wake of new more virulent strains changing the COVID landscape."

Seymour said it was "frankly embarrassing" that 75 countries have already administered 152 million doses of vaccine. He has also criticised COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins for saying in November New Zealand was at the front of the queue. 

Ardern said in Parliament on Tuesday she stood by Hipkins' remarks, because the Government was able to secure vaccine purchase agreements comparatively early. 

She also said the need for vaccines in New Zealand is not as urgent as in other countries, where coronavirus-related deaths are high, such as the UK where more than 100,000 people have died. 

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Seymour said he expects the Government will "no longer claim there are benefits to waiting" for vaccines, now that it's confirmed the promised 750,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will soon arrive on our shores. 

Other countries have approved use of vaccines under emergency, whereas New Zealand has approved Pfizer by going through the full approval process, with medicine regulator Medsafe giving provisional approval last week

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.

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said news of the vaccine's arrival in New Zealand next week was "excellent", and that what's important from here on is how effective the rollout is. 

"We will continue to play a constructive role on this issue, helping to drive good public policy and good government for NZ," he wrote on Twitter. 

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said the vaccine announcement is "timely", describing it as a milestone towards COVID-19 goals. 

"In tandem with the vaccine deployment, our border management and all [managed isolation and quarantine] facilities will need to be continually updated and improved, to safeguard the continued strength of the economy," Hope said. 

"In particular, our quarantine system needs to be able to allow better access - where safe - for investors, workers with specialist skills and other contributors to the economy."

Ardern announced in December that a trans-Tasman travel bubble could be in place from the first quarter of this year, but she cast doubt on that on Friday, even with vaccinations now a reality. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"We don't have enough data yet for vaccines having an impact on transmission, so we just can't say for sure that if you are vaccinated you're not at risk of passing COVID-19 onto others," Ardern said.

But travel may become much more likely if data does start to show that vaccines do indeed block transmission.

"That will be a significant step - if we see evidence and data emerge that shows vaccines are blocking transmission, and I'm sure that would make a difference to travel to all parts of the world."