The Director-General of Health is confident that New Zealand will receive a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the country is still “on-track” to receive the Pfizer jab, despite rollout delays in the European Union (EU).
The EU has warned vaccine producers they must deliver agreed supplies after AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech both said they cannot supply the expected numbers because of production problems.
In response, the EU has warned it could restrict exports of vaccines outside the 27-nation bloc.
Dr Bloomfield told Morning Report that Pfizer has assured him that New Zealand’s supply will not be delayed.
“We will be ready to start vaccinating people as soon as a vaccine arrives, and at this time the first vaccine we’re expecting is Pfizer in this quarter,” he said.
“We have seen those reports out of Europe where there have been some delays in delivery from Pfizer and in some respects it’s not surprising.
“These manufacturers are standing up basically new facilities to manufacture the new vaccine at scale, so there are some delays, but my understanding is that those delays in Europe are for a few weeks rather than sort of long term.”
Dr Bloomfield would not guarantee that the vaccine will be in New Zealand by the end of March, but maintained his confidence in Pfizer.
He said New Zealand’s small population relative to other countries played to its advantage in receiving the vaccine supply order.
“We’ve got in a sense an easier order to fill, but also we’ve got good agreements, our team here at MBIE negotiated a very good contracts with Pfizer.”
If delays with Pfizer’s vaccine were to occur, Bloomfield said New Zealand has other vaccines to fall back on.
He said the Janssen vaccine has an application in with New Zealand regulator Medsafe for approval while AstraZeneca, one of the developers experiencing production problems in the EU, has been providing data on its vaccine for months.
Bloomfield added that he has not had any concerns raised with him about the production of AstraZeneca.
“All these manufacturers are scaling up operations and new facilities they’re having to commission and get going at pace. So, it’s a huge task but we are seeing also tens of millions of doses being delivered into being administered around the world.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Medsafe approval for the Pfizer vaccine could happen as early as next week.
Bloomfield was hesitant to pre-empt the outcome of that decision, but is “thrilled” that Medsafe had reached that point.
“The team here [at Medsafe] have been working very hard over the last few months looking at all that data, as it’s come through working very closely with the TGA in Australia so I think it’s great that they will be in a position to assess all the information next Tuesday.
“We are not cutting any corners on assuring New Zealanders the vaccine, and other vaccines that come here, will be safe.”
Bloomfield said that he was confident there will not be rollout problems for the Covid-19 vaccine like last year’s flu jab as control of distribution and administration will be more centralised.
He said training for the administration of each vaccine was ongoing and that an additional 1200 people have agreed to be trained to be vaccinators on top of 12,000 already in New Zealand.
Bloomfield added that there are no new positive cases connected to the Northland community case to report on Wednesday morning.