The New Zealand Government is keeping some 100,000 Pfizer doses bought from a global scheme to help with equitable access to vaccines – especially for poor
The New Zealand Government is keeping some 100,000 Pfizer doses bought from a global scheme to help with equitable access to vaccines – especially for poorer nations – while donating all 834,000 AstraZeneca courses to neighbouring Pacific nations.
With New Zealand vaccination stocks diminishing, and health boards claiming they have been instructed to slow down the rate they are injecting people, the Government has revealed it plans to keep 50,310 courses of the Pfizer vaccine it has purchased from Covax for our domestic programme.
Covax is a global scheme which sees governments and manufacturers working together to support research, development and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines – as well as equitable access.
“All participating countries, regardless of income levels, will have equal access to these vaccines once they are developed,” said Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, which co-ordinates Covax.
He described Covax as “quite literally a lifeline and only viable way” for some poor nations to get access to vaccines, while also serving as “an invaluable insurance policy” for wealthier countries.
The New Zealand Government earlier pledged to transfer 1.6 million doses to low-income economies over 2021.
Last week the Government announced it was transferring its allocation of AstraZeneca vaccine to Pacific nations. There was no mention it was keeping an additional consignment of Pfizer vaccine for Kiwis.
It comes as commentators fear there is a looming danger that the rollout will either have to be slowed down or even stopped if vaccine supplies don’t arrive in time.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins rejected the need for the rollout to scale down when asked directly on Tuesday.
“No, we shouldn’t do, based on the deliveries that we know we’re going to get a reasonable amount through June as we finish up the deliveries that are already scheduled. We’ll have a few extra doses coming through our Covax allocation during that time, and then through July, we’ve now got the confirmation of a million.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t say how many doses per week were expected to arrive before July, citing commercial sensitivity, but recently about 50,000 to 60,000 doses have arrived each week.
“Even though we can’t give those exact weekly amounts because of the obligations on us, I can tell you that at least for our existing programme I breathed a sigh of relief when I got a message from minister Hipkins telling me what July was looking like,” Ardern said on Tuesday when she announced the confirmed shipments of the vaccine for July.
“So it will still take planning, but we don’t have quite the same anxiety we had previously that we were ramping up maybe too quickly for the deliveries.”
A spokesperson for Hipkins confirmed as New Zealand was participating in the Covax plan it had an option to buy enough doses for up to half of the population of the realm, including Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Niue.
“Through the Covax Facility, New Zealand has purchased 834,000 courses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 50,310 courses (or 100,620 doses) of the Pfizer vaccine, in addition to our bilateral deals with these companies.
“New Zealand has since decided to donate the AstraZeneca vaccine courses to Covax advance market commitment eligible countries, with a particular focus on countries in the Pacific, while taking receipt of the 100,000 doses of Pfizer for use in our domestic programme,” said the spokesman.
Earlier this month the vaccine alliance announced New Zealand had transferred the first 211,200 AstraZeneca doses to Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Tuvalu.
The dose transfer announcement was touted as an immediate response to the challenge of global supply constraints, specifically providing second doses to a number of countries that had rolled out Covax doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“New Zealand’s sharing of its Covax allocation allows us to deliver more doses in an extremely tight global supply context,” Berkley said.
“The Pacific nations that will be receiving these doses will be able to fully vaccinate populations that have received a first dose, and also increase the total number of people protected.”
At the time associate foreign affairs minister Aupito William Sio said New Zealand was pleased its donation would save lives.
“Dose sharing helps us make the best use of vaccines. We need to do all we can to increase the global supply of vaccines. This means mobilising funding, donating doses, keeping supply chains open, and removing barriers to manufacturing. We encourage all those in a position to do so to consider sharing their vaccines.”
However, last week Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming told a board meeting the region’s vaccination efforts could go faster but would need to slow down due to supply issues.
Latest health ministry statistics show the board was 10 per cent ahead of plan for how many doses it was expected to have administered by now, and as a whole the country was also 10 per cent ahead of expectation.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this week there would be 1 million doses of Pfizer vaccine due for delivery in July.
These shipments are expected to nearly double the total number of doses delivered so far to 1.9 million – enough to vaccinate a quarter of all eligible New Zealanders.
They will arrive in weekly drops, ramping up in quantity from mid-July.