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New Zealand approves use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

New Zealand will first inoculate border workers against COVID-19 once shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive in the country. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/34bfc32ea4439652cc092483c90579d8/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
New Zealand will first inoculate border workers against COVID-19 once shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive in the country. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- New Zealand announced Wednesday it has approved use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Chris Hipkins, the COVID-19 response minister, told reporters during a press conference that the New Zealand Cabinet has confirmed formal approval for the administration of the vaccine developed jointing between U.S. pharmaceutical Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech.

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The approval came a week after Medsafe, the archipelago nation's medical regulator, gave the vaccine provisional approval.

Hipkins said the Cabinet signed off for the vaccine to be administered to those 16 years of age and older and that information about the vaccine, including common side effects such as fever, muscle pain and fatigue, be provided.

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Patients undergoing some therapies should not receive the inoculation while pregnant women are being advised to discuss the vaccine's pros and cons with their physician, he said.

The reason for not deeming the drug as "suitable for use" on those under the age of 16 is due to a lack of evidence but that may change as more evidence becomes available, he said.

"We will be aiming to start vaccinating our border workers within days of our first shipment of vaccine arriving in New Zealand," he said. "We will also be looking to vaccinate as a matter of priority the people who they live with, their closest contacts."

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Cleaners, nursers at managed isolation and quarantine centers, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to recieve the inoculation, he explained.

Hipkins said they are unsure of exactly when the shipments will arrive but estimates range from either later this month to sometime in March.

"When the first batch of vaccine arrives, we will be ready to go," he said.

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New Zealand has already secured 750,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and is seeking additional shots through the World Health Organization's COVAX program, he said.

New Zealand regulators are also currently in talks with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson concerning the approval of their vaccines and they have begun engagement with Novavax.

Through staunch lockdown procedures, New Zealand and its nearly 5 million residents have been able to escape the worst of the pandemic, only recording 25 deaths, the last occurring in September, according to data from the ministry of health.

Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of the ministry of health, said there were only three cases reported in the last 24 hours, lifting its total infections to the pandemic to 1,968.

"There is still a long way to go but as a country we've made strong and significant progress against COVID-19 since it first emerged as a serious global threat about 12 months ago," Hipkins said.

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