The government is under pressure to introduce vaccines sooner after the woman was diagnosed with the South African variant after leaving quarantine.
New Zealand could approve a COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday, a day after the country confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus in the community in months.
“We are making rapid progress in vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but we are also absolutely committed to ensuring that the vaccines are safe and effective,” Ardern said in a statement.
The recent community case, in a woman who returned to New Zealand on December 30 and tested positive for the South African strain of the virus after leaving a mandatory two-week quarantine, led Australia to immediately suspend a bubble of travel with New Zealand for 72 hours. .
Pressure has increased on Ardern’s government to immunize New Zealand’s five million people, as other developed countries move forward with approvals and vaccination programs.
Ardern said the country’s drug regulator Medsafe was working on granting interim approval for the vaccine Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE.
The first vaccines are expected to arrive in New Zealand by the end of March.
“The most important thing is when we finish, not when we start,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. “We hope to start vaccinating the entire population by mid-year.”
Severe lockdown and geographic isolation have helped the country virtually eliminate the novel coronavirus within its borders.
New Zealand has only had 1,927 confirmed cases. But with the pandemic sweeping the world, more and more people are coming back with infections, including the new variants, raising concerns that the virus could spread again in the community.