New Zealand has agreed to purchase enough vaccines from the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax to vaccinate its 5 million residents, as well neighboring Pacific nations, according to a press release.
All vaccines administered within the country will eventually be free of charge, the government announced.
The country will send vaccines to Tokelau, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samona, Tonga, and Tuvalu in an effort to achieve equitable vaccine distribution throughout the region. New Zealand's efforts help counteract disparities in vaccine access, especially as public health experts warn that some countries and the most marginalised populations may not receive the vaccine until 2024.
"Never before has the entire globe sought to vaccinate the entire population at the same time," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference. "This will be a sustained rollout over months, not weeks, but our pre-purchase agreements means New Zealand is well positioned to get on with it as soon as it is proven safe to do so."
The government has secured 7.6 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and 10.72 million doses of the Novavax vaccine — enough to vaccinate a total of 9.16 million people, according to Reuters, since both vaccines require two doses. New Zealand previously entered two other pre-purchase agreements — 750,000 courses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 5 million courses from Janssen, according to the government's press release.
“As there are no guarantees that all the vaccines will successfully complete clinical trials, or be approved for use, this approach ensures we are able to access safe and effective vaccines at the earliest possible time,” said Megan Woods, New Zealand’s minister of research of science and innovation, in the release.
The country also purchased nine large -80 degree Celsius freezers that can store 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
Once the vaccines have been proven safe, the country will start vaccinating in early 2021. Like many other countries, New Zealand plans to prioritise essential workers first and vaccinate the general population later in the year.
“We are moving as fast as we can, but we also want to ensure the vaccine is safe for New Zealanders,” Ardern said.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that the scale of the vaccination campaign is unprecedented.
“New Zealand has never before attempted an immunisation programme of this scale and complexity,” he said. “We’re putting all of the building blocks in place to make it run as seamlessly as possible.”
New Zealand imposed a strict nationwide lockdown early in the pandemic and closed its borders to contain the spread. Now, as other countries face a second round of lockdowns and rising COVID-19 cases, life in New Zealand has nearly returned to normal.
Government officials in New Zealand reminded citizens that the beginning of COVID-19 vaccinations will not mean an end to the border lockdown.
The international community and health activists have stressed the importance of equal access to vaccines. A study co-published in September by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Northeastern University warned that deaths from COVID-19 could double if rich nations hoard vaccines.
Launched in April by seven global partners, the ACT-Accelerator is a unique coalition aimed at accelerating global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic. Its members are working together to develop tests, treatments, and vaccines as quickly as possible, while also strengthening the world’s most fragile health systems.
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