WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand will begin offering free COVID-19 vaccines to its entire population by the middle of next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday.
The government said it had received enough vaccines to protect the country’s 5 million people, with two new agreements signed by the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax.
The agreements secure access to 7.6 million doses from AstraZeneca, enough for 3.8 million people, and 10.72 million doses from Novavax, enough for 5.36 million people. Both vaccines require two doses.
“This is New Zealand’s largest-ever vaccine release,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference.
New Zealand is among a few countries that have received COVID-19 within its borders. There have been 25 deaths and 1,744 COVID-19 confirmed cases to date.
Ardern said the government will receive vaccination of border workers and rescue workers from the second quarter of 2021, and to the public in the second half of next year.
Delivery dates were not guaranteed, however, due to high demand for vaccines, including countries facing large numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“The universe has never tried to vaccinate the entire vaccine at once,” Ardern said. “This will be rolled out over months, not weeks, but our pre-purchase agreements mean New Zealand is well placed to move forward with it as soon as it is confirmed. it’s safe to do so. ”
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the health ministry has purchased nine large 80-degree Celsius freezers capable of storing more than 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. These were on track to arrive by the end of the year.
Hipkins said the start of the COVID-19 vaccine would not bring any immediate change to the country’s closed borders.
Reciting with Praveen Menon; edited by Richard Pullin