COVID-19 vaccine progress encouraging

Research, Science and Innovation

News today from Pfizer and BioNTech that they have had promising results from COVID-19 clinical trials of a vaccine is encouraging, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said.

In October, the Government signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand.

“As part of the agreement, vaccine delivery to New Zealand could be as early as the first quarter of 2021. Provided the vaccine is approved for use in New Zealand by Medsafe, it is possible that some doses will be available to us in the first part of 2021,” Megan Woods said.

“Medsafe is working to optimise its processes so that any promising vaccines will be fully assessed as quickly as possible against the same criteria used for all other medicines that enter New Zealand.

“Pfizer and BioNTech will keep us up to date as to when data will be available for Medsafe to begin its evaluation process,” Megan Woods said.

Megan Woods said the COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy Taskforce, led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is currently negotiating with other pharmaceutical companies, and further announcements are expected in November.

“The agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech is one of a number of negotiations underway as part of our portfolio approach, and good progress is being made in relation to other purchasing negotiations. The additional agreements will ensure that once the portfolio is completed, we will have sufficient COVID-19 vaccines for the whole population,” Megan Woods said.

The Ministry of Health is developing a sequencing framework to guide the rollout of the vaccines as they become available.

The Ministry of Health is preparing for a range of vaccine scenarios and will finalise the expected vaccination approach once the features of a vaccine and the supply that will initially be available are known. However, three broad groups are being considered:

·                     Those at risk of spreading COVID-19

·                     Those at risk of contracting COVID-19

·                     Those at risk of increased morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.

“Ensuring equity of outcomes is a key measure of success, including protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff. The Government has set aside $66.3 million for medical supplies and infrastructure to ensure New Zealand is ready to launch a COVID-19 Immunisation Programme as soon as we have a safe and effective vaccine,”  Megan Woods said.