New Zealanders will start getting the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, New Zealand's first Covid-19 vaccine, from February 20.
The rollout date for New Zealand's first batch of Covid-19 vaccinations will be brought forward, meaning some Kiwis will get them earlier than expected, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this morning.
The first shipment will be in the low tens of thousands, then in the coming weeks 226,000 vials are expected to arrive by the end of March. They will be split over several deliveries.
Today's announcement comes after growing pressure around why it was taking New Zealand so long to get doses for front-line border staff when millions are already being dished out around the world.
National leader Judith Collins and ACT leader David Seymour led the charge in hammering the Government, with multiple press statements, on why the rollout was taking so long, especially after Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand would be "at the front of the queue" to get the jab.
Use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was signed off by the Government on Wednesday.
It came after the vaccine, one of four the Government has purchased in advance, was also provisionally approved for use in New Zealand by Medsafe last week.
Up to 750,000 courses of the Pfizer vaccine have been secured, with the Government having announced recently it was attempting to get another small batch for early distribution.
Ardern this morning said the first batch was set to arrive on our shores next week, ahead of previous expectations.
"That means we should be in a position, all things going to plan, to start vaccinating our border workers from next Saturday, the 20th of February."
There will be a couple of days between when the vaccines arrive to when they go in bodies so that checks can be done — for example, to make sure the jabs were kept at the right temperature on their journey to New Zealand.
Those working on the front line — including border workers, cleaners, security and nurses who work in managed isolation facilities — will be first to get vaccinated.
"Our first priority is out border workers, our first line of defence who interact with returnees who may potentially have the virus every day. We expect to vaccine these approximately 12,000 workers within a two- to three-week timeframe," Ardern said.
The jab will then go to border workers' household contacts, then healthcare and essential workers and those most at risk of Covid-19, including elderly and people with medical conditions.
Those people are expected to be vaccinated through the second quarter of this year.
Wider vaccination of New Zealand’s population is expected in the second half of the year.
Each person receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech jab needs to receive two shots.
"This will be New Zealand’s largest ever vaccination campaign. Never before have we vaccinated our team of five million in such a short space of time," Ardern said.
"It is going to take all the year to reach everyone, so the sequence in ordering is important. But be assured, we have pre-purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders, and to do so for free, and the Pacific as well."
Children under 16 years old will not be allowed to get the jab while trials are still under way on how the Pfizer vaccination affects children.
"I can confirm that officials in New Zealand have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to secure the timely arrival of these vaccines and there has been regular contact with Pfizer over the last few weeks," Ardern said.
"I also want to acknowledge and thank Pfizer, not only for the delivery of the first installment, but doing so earlier than originally anticipated when we entered into some of those agreements."
Last year, the Government indicated the vaccine would arrive in the second quarter of this year. The timeline was this year updated to the first quarter.
"Given all the pressures on global distribution, it’s very pleasing to be receiving them at this stage in the quarter," Ardern said.
"We are so lucky that we can run this campaign in a fashion that means we continue to protect every New Zealander without the experience of those life and death situations that so many other countries are experiencing."
Ardern said she expects good uptake of the vaccine among those working on the frontline.