MINISTRY OF HEALTH/Supplied
Border workers were the first people in New Zealand to be vaccinated against Covid-19, in Auckland on February 20. (File image)
Chair of New Zealand’s Pasifika GP network, Dr Api Talemaitoga, said because of Pfizer’s ultracold storage and the Pacific’s lack of infrastructure, other vaccines like Novavax, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Janssen may be easier delivered.
But, according to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, there isn’t any specific timeframe of when these other vaccines will arrive in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government has ordered enough Pfizer doses to vaccinate 750,000 people, and has pre-purchase agreement to vaccinate 3.8 million people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.56m people with Novavax and possibly up to 5m people with Janssen.
* Covid-19: First batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine arrives in New Zealand
* Government Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine final sign off, as three new cases are reported in managed isolation
* Covid-19: COVAX facility to send 249,600 AstraZeneca vaccines to New Zealand by July
Bloomfield, at the 1pm media briefing on Wednesday, said Janssen is the next likely vaccine to reach New Zealand.
Talemaitoga said Novavax, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Janssen vaccines require only cold chain storage between 2–8 degrees, similar to other vaccines like flu, MMR and tetanus, already in use in the Pacific.
Pfizer requires much colder storage of temperatures below -70 degrees and once defrosted, has to be used within five days for mass vaccination.
“From a logistical point of view, Pfizer would be difficult,” Talemaitoga said.
“Once we got the other vaccines, then maybe that would be best for the Pacific.”
However, viral immunology expert Professor Graham Le Gros said New Zealand can’t deny the Pacific a good vaccine like Pfizer just because of its storage and logistical challenges.
Countries like Tonga were already looking to acquire the AstraZeneca vaccine because it is easier to store and use, he said.
“Get it out to the Pacific, if it means giving them the infrastructure like freezers, it’s definitely possible,” Le Gros said.
He said there was nothing wrong with the other vaccines but Pfizer was proving to be the best vaccine available. It’s the only vaccine approved by MedSafe for use in New Zealand.
Waiting on other vaccines to be approved for use in the country could have repercussions for the Pacific, he said.
“What if the virus does get into the Pacific, and we’ve been waiting all this time?
“I’d hate to see the Pacific denied a good vaccine, they are even more vulnerable, their economies are suffering. Buy them a freezer and put it there, make it happen.”
The Ministry of Health wouldn’t say which vaccines New Zealand was considering for the Pacific but that it has purchased sufficient vaccines to cover realm countries Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands; and Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu should their Governments wish to take these up.
A spokesperson said NZ is committed in working with the Pacific to ensure they are prepared to receive vaccines, including in logistics support and online vaccinator workforce training.
“Our approach is to be flexible and to work in partnership – with the final decisions sitting with each of the countries to support their specific needs.
“We are also talking to Pacific Island countries about how we might support their own plans for vaccine access and roll-out.”