New Zealand aims to vaccinate its entire population against Covid-19 in the second half of next year in its largest immunization program to date, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. The nation’s currency has risen.
The government has provided two additional vaccines from pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc. and it will be enough for all five million New Zealanders, Ardern said in Wellington on Thursday. If it is proven safe and effective, immunization with border workers and core staff will begin in the second quarter of 2021, followed by the population in the second half, he said. Vaccinations will be free to the public.
“This will be New Zealand’s largest immunization introduction to date,” Ardern said in a statement. “Most countries are shaping the fact of introduction to be both 2021 and 2022 complete, because of its size and complexity, as well as production and delivery deadlines.”
New Zealand has eliminated intra-Community transmission of the coronavirus, but the country’s border remains closed, causing a major blow to the important tourism industry and Economy. Vaccinations will be key to reopening the border, but the government today warned that the launch of an immunization program “initially did not mean any change at our borders”.
“Our border remains the first line of defense for imported cases against Covid-19,” said Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 response minister. “To make decisions around borders, we need to be sure that the people of New Zealand are adequately protected.”
The New Zealand dollar rose about a quarter of a dollar after Ardern’s announcement, taking 71.03 cents at Well.05 at 9.05.
“The big question now is how safe and effective are the different vaccines?” said Siouxsie Wiles, an associate professor at the University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences. “The scientific community is still waiting to see all the data on how well each vaccine is preventing the spread of Covid-19 virus, as well as preventing serious diseases. This will determine how vaccines should be introduced in New Zealand and when it will be safe to open our borders.
New Zealand has now provided four vaccines following previous sales agreements with Pfizer / BioNTech and Janssen Pharmaceutica. Three of the vaccines require two doses. The new agreements will allow access to 7.6 million doses of AstraZeneca, which is enough for 3.8 million people, and 10.72 million doses from Novavax, which is enough for 5.36 million people.
According to Ardern, the strategy was to buy different types of technologies so that if some turn out to be less successful, there are alternatives available. The introduction of all vaccines depends on the description from the Medsafe controller and the speed of production.
“We’re moving as fast as we can, but we also want to make sure the vaccination is safe for New Zealanders,” he said.
In addition to Tokelau, Niue and the Cook Islands, which belong to the New Zealand Empire, the government is offering vaccinations to its Pacific island neighbors, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.
(Updates with the scientist’s comment in the seventh paragraph.)