Coronavirus: Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine given conditional approval for 12 to 15 year olds in New Zealand

New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe has given conditional approval for 12 to 15-year-olds to be given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday Medsafe's provisional decision came after careful consideration of the most up-to-date scientific and medical data available. 

"There are around 265,000 children in the 12-15 age bracket and our existing Pfizer purchase order contains more than enough doses to cover two shots for this entire group," Ardern said. 

"We don't need to buy any more to cover them, and no one will miss out as a result of this decision. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved for 12- to 15-year-olds in Canada, the USA, Europe, and Japan."

Ardern said the next step is for the Government to review advice from the Ministry of Health about the 'decision to use', and the outcome is expected later this month. Until that decision is made, 12 to 15-year-olds won't be given the jab. 

Ardern said it's in "all of our interests" for this group to be vaccinated.

"While COVID has not generally affected children as severely as it has adults, there have been cases internationally of children getting sick from the virus. 

"In addition, children have been shown to transmit the virus, so being able to vaccinate them helps protect the wider community."

The provisional consent for 12 to 15-year-olds to get the jab will come down to the pharmaceutical company meeting certain conditions, including supplying more data from its clinical trials around the world as they progress. 

This will happen at the same time as the vaccine is rolled out.

Provisional approval is not uncommon for vaccines, for instance the annual influenza jab is given provisional approval for the same reason.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

Last week Ardern revealed the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to the generation population will begin on July 28 and that it will be staggered in age bands. 

From the end of July, a new phase will begin in the roll-out, which is when over-60s will be offered the jab. Pfizer will deliver vaccines weekly, and will give four weeks' notice.

From August 11, Kiwis aged 50 and over will be invited to get vaccinated, and from there the roll-out is "indicative", with the Government expecting those aged 45 and over to be invited to have a jab from late August. 

The rest of the population will be vaccinated from October. 

The Government already released a plan in March showing priority groups, with border workers and their families, health workers and people with underlying health issues, as well as elderly prioritised. 

In March the Government purchased an additional 8.5 million Pfizer vaccines, bringing the total to 10 million and making it the main vaccine for use in New Zealand. 

The Government has been criticised for the pace of the roll-out, with New Zealand falling to the bottom of the OECD. It has also battled with revelations that groups deemed 'high risk' have fallen behind schedule

But Ardern has rejected commentary that the roll-out isn't living up to expectations. 

The latest data from the Ministry of Health shows the vaccine roll-out is currently on track with the Government's plan. It shows 852,199 doses have been administered, which is 7 percent ahead of the plan. 

"It's not at all delayed," Ardern told The AM Show on Monday

"This is as we anticipated. You'll recall from the very first moment we were talking about our vaccine plan, we were talking about the fact that it would take the best part of a year."