New Zealand’s Covid-19 minister has called for patience in the country’s vaccine roll-out programme, saying he was unlikely to follow the UK in using emergency provisions to fast-track approval.
Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said: “We are in a slightly different position to other countries who are using emergency provisions to approve the vaccine, and in many cases those countries are doing that because they are suffering hugely from Covid, with thousands of people dying every day.”
New Zealand faced a different situation, he said, but added: “We are getting ready, getting geared up so that when vaccines arrive in New Zealand they are pre-approved.”
New Zealand experts agree the country, like Australia, can sustain a longer wait and should take a strategic approach to its vaccination program.
UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, said on Wednesday that mass immunisations will begin next week after becoming the first country in the western world to approve a Covid vaccine.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said no corners had been cut in licensing the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in record time, and the vaccine had been subjected to the most thorough scrutiny by experts working round the clock. The UK has bought 40m doses of the vaccine, which has been shown to have 95% efficacy.
At least 60,000 people have died from Covid in the UK, with more than 1.6 million cases recorded. In contrast, New Zealand has a total Covid-19 death toll of 25, with few cases outside its border regime since August.
Fran Priddy, the clinical director of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa NZ, said workers within New Zealand’s border regime – including health specialists – should be vaccinated first, followed by those most at risk. “That would include the elderly, those in nursing homes and those with high rates of co-morbidities like Maori,” she said.
Dr Priddy said Kiwis should prepare to wait in any case because regulatory approvals and logistics – including super-cold freezers and a supporting health workforce – were not yet secured.
University of Otago public health professor, Michael Baker, said New Zealand’s success in handling the virus allowed for some selflessness. “One of the plusses of succeeding with elimination is it frees up vaccines supply for higher-priority countries that don’t have the resources to do what Australia and New Zealand have done,” he said.
Dr Baker agreed with Priddy that groups most at risk of contracting the virus should be vaccinated first, followed by those at risk of severe cases. “That’s why only modest supplies of Pfizer’s vaccine will be extremely useful for us,” he said.
University of Auckland vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said the Pfizer vaccine – which both the UK and NZ have deals for – required complicated infrastructure and might not be suitable for developing nations. She reassured Kiwis, saying “there’s going to be enough vaccine for everybody”.
With Australian Associated Press