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New Zealand approves Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Christian Fernsby |
The New Zealand government has confirmed formal approval for the use of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.

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Border workers and the people they live with are the first to be vaccinated, the minister said, adding that people such as cleaners, the nurses who undertake health checks in managed isolation facilities, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to get the vaccine.

Following the provisional approval by New Zealand's medical regulatory body Medsafe last week, the formal government approval for use represents another critical step in the process of ensuring the vaccine is safe and effective for New Zealanders.

"Medsafe's provisional approval was step one and 'decision to use' is a further greenlight on the road to our rollout. After receiving further advice, Cabinet has endorsed officials' advice to use Pfizer/BioNTech," Hipkins said in a statement.

"While we've found the 'decision to use' process around this first application to be relatively straightforward, the government also recognise there will be a huge amount of further detail to consider as the other vaccines in our portfolio of 14.91 million courses go through the Medsafe approval process.

"As part of our portfolio, we have secured up to 750,000 courses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through an Advance Purchase Agreement, and we are seeking a further small allocation through the COVAX Facility," Hipkins said.

The minister confirmed the vaccine has been assessed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and has gained its approval for use in the country.

"While vaccination of our border and other frontline workers takes place, we will continue to receive advice from officials on the other vaccines in our portfolio. Medsafe is in regular conversations with AstraZeneca and Janssen and has begun engagement with Novavax. A similar rigorous approval process is being followed," he said.

The total number of active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand is 59, and the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 1,968, according to a Health Ministry statement on Wednesday.

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