Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed that the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine could be granted approval in New Zealand in just a week.
This is the first time the Government has set an explicit time frame for vaccine approval.
Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins speaks at a post-Cabinet press conference today.
Ardern told media that the recent Northland community case was an “unwanted” situation but something that the Government had prepared.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry revealed a 56-year-old woman in the region had tested positive for the virus.
The PM said it shows what a “complex virus” Covid-19 is.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said there were no new community cases today – out of the person’s 16 close contacts – 15 had returned a negative test.
One more result awaiting a decision.
He said 154 people had been identified as the person’s contacts – they were all in isolation pending the results.
Meanwhile, he said there were “a number of calls to Healthline” about what were actually “close contacts”.
Hipkins confirmed 1500 people were tested yesterday in Northland – at tests per 1000, Maori were tested the most.
But he said more testing was still ongoing. But it warns people not to line up for testing unless they show symptoms, or come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
There has been a significant increase in the number of people using the Covid-19 app, he said.
Ardern reminds people to scan wherever they go, and to activate the Bluetooth function as well.
He said some people think that if Bluetooth is on, they don’t need to scan.
But that’s not the case, he said, adding that people still need to scan even when Bluetooth is on.
“Scan wherever you go.”
Vaccine information released
The first people in New Zealand to receive vaccinations will be at the border and managed by an isolation and quarantine workforce and their close contacts, Hipkins said.
“These brave people have protected our country from this global pandemic for the past year and protecting them and those who share their households is our priority,” said Hipkins.
It will take two to three weeks for the Government to complete vaccinations for the health of frontline and border workers and their close contacts, Ardern said.
He says this will provide a line of defense for them.
Ardern said he expects New Zealand’s borders to remain closed for this year.
He said enough people needed to be vaccinated in New Zealand for the borders to open – it “will take time”.
The timeline for the wider population remains the same – Hipkins says a vaccine will be rolled out to the general public by the middle of this year.
Hipkins said the Government has purchased a “diverse portfolio” of vaccines so that the Government has a choice when the vaccination period begins.
That’s so “we have that range” in terms of using multiple vaccines that could be more effective in different people, Ardern said.
Hipkins said the Government had “prior purchase agreements” but had other options, including buying more vaccines based on their effectiveness.
Ardern said he had spoken very deliberately not specifically about vaccine launches because most of his time was in the hands of pharmaceutical companies.
But New Zealand, he said, will be “tidying up our house” when the launch can begin.
Ardern said he always said a vaccine would come in the “first quarter” of this year – he purposely didn’t want to give specifics.
“We’re ready to go when we get the vaccine,” said Hipkins. But he warned that vaccines would come in small amounts first, before increasing later in the year.
But New Zealand is “ready” for the launch to begin, he said.
Hipkins said the Government is still in talks with Pfizer about the schedule for the vaccine that will enter New Zealand.
Asked about vaccine skeptics, Ardern said it would be a smaller cohort in New Zealand. He said this is something that can be overcome. “They need as much information as possible.”
He said there would be a vaccine education boost before it was launched, to make sure people knew about it.
He said the “5 million team” expected the Government to “do its homework” on vaccines – and homework would be shared with Kiwis, he said.
Ardern added that the government had made “rapid progress” in vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus.
“But we are also very committed to making sure the vaccine is safe and effective,” he said.
Medsafe will seek advice and recommendations from the Drug Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC) next Tuesday on the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines, Ardern said.
The Ministry’s expert advisory committee will then review the risk-benefit assessment of the Medsafe data and, subject to feedback, Medsafe may be able to provide interim approval immediately the following day.
“The Medsafe process not only ensures New Zealanders can feel confident in the vaccine we receive, it is also timely and means we will be ready to receive and administer the vaccine as soon as Pfizer is in a position to deliver it,” Ardern said.
“We have always known that a safe and effective vaccine is an important part of our Covid-19 response to our long-term virus control. 2021 is the Year of Vaccines.”
If granted, interim approval of the vaccine would mean that Medsafe has sufficient information and guarantees of safety and effectiveness to allow vaccination to start – although there will be continued monitoring of the vaccine here and abroad.
“However,” said Hipkins, “if Medsafe decides next week that some additional reassurance is required before giving approval, I accept their decision and am satisfied that it is the right decision on behalf of all of us.
“Safety is paramount and we want to be convinced of this and also give all New Zealanders the same opportunities for protection as any other country,”
‘Disappointed’ with Aussie PM’s decision
Ardern said he expressed “disappointment” with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about his decision to brake the trans-Tasman bubble.
He wouldn’t be interested in whether she had overreacted – but said she told him the situation was “well under control.”
He said the Government would continue to monitor the bubble – but it seemed much more difficult when it came to the “country by country” bubble. He said the country-by-country bubble was another matter.
Ardern said from what he saw, no country has ever prohibited its own citizens from returning. He said when asked about not allowing people to return to New Zealand from countries at risk of Covid who would make citizenship.
He said the Government was looking into what it could do, to protect New Zealand.
But he said people would have a hard time finding stricter borders than New Zealand.
Ardern said one of New Zealand’s main complexities surrounding the travel bubble with Australia is that NZ deals with a number of different states.
Australia, on the other hand, deals only with one country with one set of rules.
“It makes it difficult for us,” he said, adding that New Zealand had taken a “conservative approach”.
Hipkins says going to New Zealand from anywhere in the world is a complex travel network – given that planes stop at different locations and pick up new people on their way here.
He said it made it more difficult to separate people in MIQ into different facilities.
PM on the National housing plan
On the emergency Housing bill, which National calls for, Ardern said much had been learned from the post-Christchurch rebuilding.
“It is too difficult to build a house in New Zealand,” said national leader Judith Collins in a state address this afternoon.
“We have to make it a lot easier. With rents and house prices out of control, the Kiwis can’t wait anymore.”
“We’ve continued,” Ardern said of Collins’ response.
But he said he disagreed with some things Letter of national leader Judith Collins.
“The things he is [Collins] says we have to do, we’re done, “Ardern said.
Regarding the Northland queue, Hipkins said the Government had increased the test sites in the field.
But he said the biggest problem was that people would get tests, who didn’t need them.
He again asked only those with symptoms to get tested in Northland.
“We cannot guarantee there will not be a delay,” he said.
At checkpoint iwi, Ardern said New Zealand – and Northland – is still at level 1 so people still need to be able to move around the country.
Remembering, this kind of obstacle is not necessary – but he asked iwi to work with the Police.
He said there were no worries surrounding the long weekend.
Since the news first broke out, the testing station in Northland had been inundated.
Some concerned locals have spent up to 10 hours waiting in long and hot queues for tests after the Health Ministry revealed more than 30 attractive sites from Whangarei to Helensville were visited for nine days while the woman was contagious.