Although there are no vaccines for COVID-19 registered in New Zealand yet, there are several initiatives underway to secure safe and effective vaccines for all New Zealanders as soon as possible.
The Government has secured COVID-19 vaccines through advance purchase agreements with pharmaceutical suppliers. All agreements are subject to the vaccines successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand before they will be provided to the community. Read more about advance purchase agreements and the two new vaccine agreements.
Will the COVID-19 vaccines be safe?
Before vaccines are provided to the community, they must be approved by Medsafe. Medsafe is the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority, and is a part of the Ministry of Health. It is responsible for the regulation of medicines. It is Medsafe's role to assess the available data about a vaccine before approving its use in New Zealand.
Read more about Medsafe's vaccine evaluation and approval process.
When will I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
In New Zealand, vaccines will become available in stages. Currently, systems are on track to deliver the first vaccines for the priority groups in the second quarter of this year (April to June), with vaccination of the general population in the second half of the year.
The order of who gets the vaccines is based on providing the best protection for those who are at a higher risk for becoming infected (such as boarder workers) and for those more likely to have poor outcomes from COVID-19.
The Government is preparing for 3 different scenarios for rolling out the vaccine based on whether New Zealand has community transmission or not.
Currently, given we have no community transmission, the first group who would be vaccinated are those most at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. This includes the border and MIQ workforce, the COVID-19 frontline healthcare workers, and their household contacts.
Read more about sequencing the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.
What COVID-19 vaccines has the Government ordered?
Multiple types of vaccine technology have been used to develop COVID-19 vaccines. New Zealand's strategy is to purchase different types of technology. This makes sure that if some are found in development or trials not to be a successful option, we will have alternatives available.
The 4 advance purchase agreements secured to date are:
- 750,000 courses from Pfizer/BioNTech
- 5 million courses from Janssen
- 3.8 million courses from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
- 5.36 million courses from Novavax.
A course of each of these vaccines is 2 doses (although the Janssen one may be only one dose). These vaccine options closely align with other countries.
What types of vaccine technologies are used in COVID-19 vaccines?
COVID-19 vaccines use several different types of technologies to trigger an immune response. None of the vaccines pre-ordered by the Government use the live virus that causes COVID-19 and they do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.
Viral vector vaccines
Viral vector vaccines use a common virus that has been genetically engineered so that it can’t cause disease, but carries the instructions for your body to produce coronavirus proteins to safely generate an immune response. The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Janssen vaccine use this technology. Read more about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines also teach your cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, that triggers an immune response inside your body. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects you from getting infected if the real virus enters your body.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for your cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the ‘spike protein’. The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. Read more about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from the CDC, US.
These vaccines use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response. The Novavax vaccine uses this technology. Read more about the Novavax vaccine.
For other reliable and accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines, see:
COVID-19: Vaccine planning Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
COVID-19 therapeutic products – questions and answers Medsafe, NZ
Facts about COVID-19 vaccines Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines World Health Organization
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines World Health Organization
- COVID-19 vaccines Unite Against COVID-19, NZ, 2020
- New Zealand joins global search for COVID-19 vaccine beehive.govt.nz, NZ, 2020
- Two new vaccines secured, enough for every New Zealander Unite Against COVID-19, NZ, 2020
|Dr Helen Petousis-Harris is an associate professor at the University of Auckland working in the area of vaccinology. Her research is focussed on the effects and the safety of vaccines. She is a member of several national and international advisory committees on vaccines.|