WELLINGTON, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand's pharmaceutical authorities on Wednesday gave provisional approval of the country's first COVID-19 vaccine.
"The provisional approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a positive step in New Zealand's fight against COVID-19. It means we can now begin preparations for the first stage in our vaccination roll-out," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference.
"Medsafe provides independent advice to the government and approves all medicines and vaccines available in New Zealand. Approval has been a very carefully considered and robust process, with safety the key priority," Ardern said.
"Medsafe's decision is the culmination of a rigorous assessment process over many months to ensure the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective to use here. It is informed by the most up to date medical and scientific data. We can have confidence in their decision," she said.
Border workers and the people they live with are the first to be vaccinated, she said, adding that people such as cleaners, the nurses who undertake health checks in managed isolation facilities, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to get the vaccine, to be completed within two to three weeks.
"Vaccinating our frontline staff will provide a critical additional line of defense to keep them well and to help prevent COVID-19 entering the community. It's an extra layer to help protect New Zealanders and our economy against a future outbreak," Ardern said.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines will be expected to arrive in New Zealand by the end of the first quarter.
Ardern said the government will be encouraging all New Zealanders to get vaccinated.
"I have said 2021 is the Year of the Vaccine. It's a full-year program we have only just begun," she said. Enditem