Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Also called the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or Comirnaty vaccine

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine protects against the COVID-19 virus. It protects you from severe infection, hospitalisation and death. Find out about the vaccine and possible side effects.

The Pfizer vaccine protects against COVID-19.  Vaccination means that if you do become infected you are far less likely to become seriously ill, need to go to hospital or spread the virus to others.

The vaccine stimulates your body’s immune system to produce antibodies to help fight the virus that causes COVID-19. None of the ingredients in this vaccine can cause COVID-19.

On this page, you can find the following information:

Who can get the Pfizer vaccine?

Everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand aged 5 years and over can book their free COVID-19 vaccination now. It doesn’t matter what your visa or citizenship status is.

The Pfizer vaccine is available for:

  • tamariki aged 5 to 11 years: They will receive 2 doses of the children’s (paediatric) version of the Pfizer vaccine, 8 weeks or more apart. The paediatric version has a lower dose and smaller volume which is given using a smaller needle Read more about Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children 5 years old and over.
  • young people aged 12 years and older: They will receive 2 doses of the adult version of the vaccine, 3 weeks or more apart.
  • adults aged 16 years and older: They will receive 2 doses of the adult version of the vaccine, at least 3 weeks apart, and a booster 6 months or later.  If you're 50 years of age or older you can get a second booster 6 months after your first booster.
  • People who are severely immunocompromised may be eligible for an additional primary dose (3 doses) and, depending on their age, a second booster dose.

See below: How many doses of the Pfizer vaccine do you need?

Should I get a vaccine if I have already had COVID?

Yes, you should start, or continue, with your vaccinations 12 weeks (3 months) after you have recovered from COVID-19. Being vaccinated provides better protection than any immunity you might get from being infected with the virus. It can also help protect you from new variants of COVID-19. 

How is the Pfizer vaccine given?

The Pfizer vaccine is given as an injection into the muscle of your upper arm by a trained healthcare professional. 

  • You will need to stay for at least 15 minutes afterwards so a healthcare worker can look out for you and make sure you are okay.
  • Then if you are fine and you're feeling okay, you can leave and carry on with your day.

How many doses of the Pfizer vaccine do I need?

The number of doses you need and the gap between the doses will depend on whether you are getting your first, second or your booster doses and whether you have a weakened immune system or not. Read more about the recommended timing gaps for different COVID-19 vaccines.

Who should not be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine?

You should not receive the Pfizer vaccine if you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to this vaccine or its ingredients. 

Can I have the Pfizer vaccine if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes, you are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at any stage of pregnancy. A Medsafe review of the use of the Pfizer vaccine in pregnancy found no safety concerns (Safety of the Comirnaty (Pfizer COVID-19) vaccine during pregnancy.), and it has been given to many thousands of people during pregnancy throughout the world. Read more about COVID-19 and pregnancy. 

There are also no safety concerns about giving the Pfizer vaccine to people who are breastfeeding. By being vaccinated, you can provide some protection against COVID-19 for your baby through your breastmilk. Read more about the use of the Pfizer vaccine in pregnancy and breastfeeding.

What are the common side effects of the Pfizer vaccine?

Like all vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. It is important to drink plenty of fluids after your vaccination, and to rest; avoid going to the gym or strenuous exercise for a day or two afterwards. Side effects are more commonly reported after a second dose. 

 Side effects  What should I do?
  • Redness or pain at injection site
  • This is very common after having the vaccination.
  • Place a cold, wet cloth or ice pack on the injection site for a short time.
  • Do not rub or massage the injection site.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if it bothers you.
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Tender arm pits
  • These are quite common after having the vaccination.
  • They usually start within 6 to 48 hours after having the injection and get better within a day or two. 
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid exercise such as going to the gym
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken but follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Seek advice from your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse.
  • Changes in blood glucose levels 
  • The vaccine can sometimes cause high or low blood glucose levels. 
  • If you have diabetes and are having insulin injections, monitor your blood glucose levels closely for the next few days after having the vaccine. 
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product.

Is there a risk of allergic reaction with the Pfizer vaccine?

Serious allergic reactions can occur but they are extremely rare. New Zealand vaccinators are trained to manage these. Most people with a history of anaphylaxis to other medicines, vaccines, foods and venom can be safely vaccinated.

Signs of an allergic reaction include skin rash, itching, swelling of your lips, face and mouth, or difficulty breathing or speaking. 

  • A trained healthcare professional will observe you for at least 15 minutes after being given the Pfizer vaccine 
  • If these symptoms develop after that, go straight to the emergency department at your nearest hospital, or call 111 if your hospital is not nearby.

Delayed allergic symptoms

Some people develop delayed allergic symptoms such as swelling around your eyes or face, hives or a rash. This can develop from a few hours to days after getting your vaccine. The symptoms may settle on their own without treatment or you can use antihistamine tablets (eg, cetirizine or loratadine). Tell your doctor if you are concerned.

Most people who develop delayed allergic symptoms with the first dose can safely get the second dose. You can take an antihistamine (eg, cetirizine or loratadine) prior to or following the second dose. Most people will have a similar milder reaction with the second dose.

Is there a risk of myocarditis with the Pfizer vaccine?

There have been very rare reports of myocarditis, pericarditis or both (myopericarditis) occurring after vaccination with the Comirnaty Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine particularly in younger males. Myocarditis is more likely to occur following a COVID-19 infection than after receiving the vaccine.  

Myocarditis is inflammation affecting the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of the lining around the heart. Myopericarditis is a mixture of myocarditis and pericarditis.

Although this side effect is rare, it can be serious. Symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis linked to the vaccine generally appear within a few days, and mostly within the first few weeks after having the vaccine. Read more about COVID-19 vaccine side effects and reactions.

Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following in the first few weeks after your vaccination. 

  • Chest pain, discomfort, tightness or heaviness.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • An abnormal heartbeat, a racing fluttering feeling or a feeling of skipped heart beats.
  • Feeling lightheaded, faint or dizzy.
These could be signs of myocarditis and pericarditis. If you have children who have been vaccinated, please watch them for any decreased activity and ask them to tell you about any symptoms. Children may not realise they have symptoms or may not talk about them without being asked.

For the latest reports on adverse events following immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines, see overview of vaccine reports.

Learn more

Get additional reliable and accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines.

References

  1. Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine Medsafe Consumer Information, NZ
  2. Comirnaty European Medicines Agency
  3. Time between doses of COVID-19 vaccine extended Unite against Covid-19, NZ, 2021
  4. Myocarditis and the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand - information for health professionals The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ

Additional resources for healthcare professionals

COVID-19 education The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
How the Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine works and how we assess its safety The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ, 2021

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 01 Oct 2022