The Chinese Embassy is "exploring the possibility" of introducing a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine for use in New Zealand.
However, the New Zealand Government says it’s not currently looking into it.
It comes amid reports of Chinese nationals in New Zealand who believe they could or would like to receive a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine at some point while in the country, 1 NEWS understands.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Wellington said it had asked the New Zealand Government to “include Chinese nationals in New Zealand in their vaccination schemes”.
The Government has said everyone in New Zealand, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to get vaccinated for free.
“We are also exploring the possibility of introducing Chinese-made vaccine to New Zealand,” the spokesperson said.
When asked for clarification as to what “exploring the possibility” of introducing a Chinese-made vaccine in New Zealand meant, the spokesperson said: “The two governments have maintained close communication on this.
“Our focus at the moment is to make sure that all Chinese nationals are included in the vaccination programme here in New Zealand.”
Earlier this month, China's Foreign Minister announced the Chinese Government's "Spring Seedling Action" programme for overseas Chinese to receive vaccines made in China or elsewhere.
According to state media, as part of the programme, the Chinese Government would set up its own vaccination stations overseas for Chinese nationals "where conditions allow".
Beijing has also signalled it would begin to ease pandemic border restrictions for foreign citizens — but only if they'd been inoculated with vaccines they have created.
Covid-19 Response Minister Hipkins said he wasn’t aware of any current applications to Medsafe for use of any Chinese-made vaccine in New Zealand.
“I am advised that Medsafe has not received an application to approve any Chinese Covid-19 vaccines currently and has not received any correspondence about the possibility of one either. As a result Medsafe knows nothing about the benefits and risks of such a vaccine,” he said.
“Anyone who wants to import vaccines into the country for their use in New Zealand would have to go through a Medsafe approval process.”
Hipkins said a “full approval process” by Medsafe would also be required even if it were to be administered by the Chinese Embassy, and strict regulations would continue to be in place for importing any medicine.
He said he also wasn’t aware of any other countries’ embassies applying with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to use their vaccines in New Zealand.
China has produced a number of vaccines so far, with Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm its two front-runners.
Sinovac and Sinopharm are approved for use in 17 countries and 20 countries respectively across Asia, Central America, South America and the Middle East.
Pfizer is the only vaccine currently approved for use in New Zealand, as well as 71 other countries in all regions.
A Chinese study published in The Lancet last month said late-stage clinical trials of Sinovac in Turkey showed the vaccine was 91.25 per cent effective, but only 65.3 per cent effective in an Indonesian trial.
Trials in Brazil initially found the vaccine was 78 per cent effective for mild to severe Covid-19 cases, but researchers later revised that figure to 50.4 per cent when it also included very mild infections.
Sinovac has not released full data about its vaccine’s efficacy.
Meanwhile, Sinopharm’s Wuhan unit reported an efficacy rate of 72.51 per cent based on interim analysis of its late-stage clinical trials.
Last week, Pfizer reported a 97 per cent efficacy rate after two doses based on data from Israel.
During the Prime Minister’s announcement of Auckland’s move to Alert Level 1 last week, she was asked by New Zealand Chinese-language media agency SkyKiwi whether the Government had approached Beijing about the effectiveness of its vaccines.
SkyKiwi — which has links to the state-run Xinhua News Agency — said surveys in its forums and on Chinese social media indicated some people in local Chinese communities had hoped they could get a Chinese-made vaccine in New Zealand.
Jacinda Ardern said vaccine efficacy should be decided by medical experts globally, rather than individual governments.
“That judgment isn’t for us. What we want to do, and we’d all benefit from is having, therefore, an international body who is able to establish a way of recognising and identifying those who have been vaccinated with effective vaccines that other countries should allow them to move freely,” Ardern said.
She reiterated that anyone in New Zealand was able to get the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine regardless of their immigration status.