COVID-19: Vaccine planning

We’re paving the way to make sure we have access to safe and effective vaccines at the earliest possible time.

Last updated: 21 January 2021

At a glance:

  • We expect vaccines to be delivered to the first group of people in the second quarter of 2021.
  • Any vaccines we distribute will be approved by Medsafe so it meets strict health and safety requirements.
  • COVID-19 vaccines will be free of charge.
  • They will not be mandatory for the New Zealand public.
  • There will be a sequenced rollout plan so that the appropriate vaccines are made available to people at the right time.
  • We can’t say how vaccines will impact our borders at this time.

On this page:

Preparing for the vaccines

Our priority is to make sure New Zealanders get fair, equal and free access to COVID-19 vaccines.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy

The strategy aims to secure vaccines that are safe, effective and in enough quantities – at the earliest possible time. Using expertise from across government, it sets the steps we must take so we have the infrastructure, regulations and relationships in place for COVID-19 vaccines.

This is an important part of our elimination strategy. Safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are an essential part of how we:

  • control the virus in the long term
  • protect our communities
  • support our economic recovery
  • re-open New Zealand Aotearoa’s borders.

As part of this, we're preparing a COVID-19 immunisation programme. Strong vaccination uptake levels are critical to achieve enough population immunity.

Find out more: Vaccine Strategy


Achieving the Vaccine Strategy aim will contribute to these outcomes:

  • Sufficient supply of a safe and effective vaccines to achieve population immunity to COVID-19.
  • Protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and population groups at particular risk from COVID-19.
  • Full cultural, social and economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.
  • Recognition of New Zealand as a valued contributor to global wellbeing and the COVID-19 response.
  • New Zealand, Pacific and global preparedness for response to future disease outbreaks.

Who we're working with

We’re working with partners and stakeholders to make sure the widest range of needs, perspectives, concerns and advice are considered. This includes:

  • Upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles and working in partnership with Māori. This is fundamental to the programme’s success and protecting the unique whakapapa of New Zealand Aotearoa. 
  • Supporting our Pacific neighbours with access to COVID-19 vaccines and their rollout of an immunisation programme.
  • Ensuring equity of outcomes as a key measure of success. This includes protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff.

We’ll work with DHBs, the Primary Health Care network and others on what the rollout of vaccines might look like for each part of the health system.

Vaccines will be free

The Government has confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccination will be free of charge.

Vaccines will not be mandatory

The COVID-19 vaccination will not be mandatory for the New Zealand public. You may choose not to be vaccinated.

Delivering the vaccines

To support the delivery of an effective immunisation programme, we’re preparing:

  • timing and delivery options
  • workforce considerations
  • technology
  • logistics and supply chain management
  • equipment and infrastructure.

Immunisation programme

The COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy sets the direction for the COVID-19 Immunisation Programme. This will deliver the roll out of vaccines when they become available. We’re planning for a range of potential delivery scenarios in 2021.

We have over five million people in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Sāmoa, Tonga and Tuvalu. The programme aims to immunise as many people as possible. As a comparison, 1.78 million influenza vaccines were distributed to providers in 2020.


We’re planning for an extra 2,000-3,000 full time (or equivalent) vaccinators who will be trained and available when needed throughout New Zealand. The workforce will continue to scale up during 2021 in line with vaccine delivery schedules.

We have established a close working relationship with DHBs to collaborate on a number of aspects of the programme, including workforce development. The Ministry has also contracted the Immunisation Advisory Centre to provide training on COVID-19 vaccines, which is expected to start in February 2021, initially for those vaccinators who will deliver the Pfizer vaccine and then for nurses, doctors and pharmacists. This training will be available online and face to face across the country.

Expressions of interest

We are currently seeking additional vaccinators to support the COVID-19 vaccine roll out. This could be any retired health professionals or others not currently in the health workforce that may want to volunteer. You can register your interest via the COVID-19 Surge Workforce database. Please note that this database is only for people not currently in the health workforce willing to be involved in the roll out.


Immunisation register

The National Immunisation Register (NIR) hold records for all immunisations given to children in New Zealand, as well as some adults. Now over 15 years old, we’re developing a replacement NIR system – the National Immunisation Solution (NIS).

NIS will enable any health worker to record vaccinations anywhere, anytime. The public will be able to digitally access their own immunisation records.

The first iteration of the system will be available to fully support a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out and additional functionality will be added through further iterations.

Inventory management system

We’re developing an inventory management system for COVID-19 vaccines. This will hold information about where the vaccines are located with oversight of volumes and temperature. The system will help us track and trace COVID-19 vaccines and consumables, including their expiry dates to minimise wastage.

Logistics and supply chain

There is planning and purchasing of equipment and infrastructure to support the roll out of the vaccine, where $66 million has been allocated. This includes cool storage and freezer facilities.

Making sure the vaccines are safe

Medsafe evaluates applications for all new medicines, including vaccines. They must comply with international standards and local requirements for quality, safety and efficacy before they can be approved and used in New Zealand.

Medsafe is streamlining its assessment processes and prioritising the evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines over other medicines so that we can get a vaccine more quickly. They’ll still have the same rigorous level of scrutiny that all medicines undergo.

Find out more: Medicines evaluation and approval process

Sharing data internationally

Medsafe is sharing information and guidance on our data requirements for approving COVID-19 vaccines with regulators internationally. This includes the level of clinical trials and manufacturing data needed to demonstrate efficacy and safety.

This process has been operating for over 15 years and reduces the time taken to assess new medicines in New Zealand without compromising our standards.

Timings and rollout of the vaccines

Our first priority will be to vaccinate border workers and essential staff who are at the greatest risk of getting COVID-19. We expect vaccines to be delivered to our front line workers in the second quarter of 2021.

Our aim is to then commence vaccination of the general public in the second half of the year. This will be dependent on Medsafe approving the vaccines as being safe and effective for use in New Zealand.

Safety will always be our priority. We're all set to move swiftly, but we will not be rushing or compromising safety in any way.

Who gets the vaccine when

As quantities of the vaccine will be limited when it arrives in New Zealand, it will first need to go to the population groups who need it most. This will also depend on whether New Zealand has any community transmission at the time.

COVID-19 Sequencing Framework

It's likely that vaccines will become available in stages. This means we'll need to consider the best way to sequence their delivery to provide the best protection for those who are at a higher risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19.

This table shows we're preparing for three different scenarios for rolling out the vaccine. This is based on whether we're able to keep COVID-19 out of our borders or whether we're dealing with community transmission.

  Scenario one:
Low/no community transmission
Scenario two:
Clusters and controlled outbreaks
Scenario three:
Widespread community transmission
Aim Prevent transmission Reduce transmission and protect people in close contact Protect those most vulnerable to prevent illness and mortality
Group one
First group of people to receive the vaccine in each scenario
  • Border and managed isolation & quarantine workforce
  • Health workforce at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • Household contacts of the above two groups
  • Border and managed isolation & quarantine workforce
  • Health workforce at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • Population affected by the outbreak
  • Older people (aged care residents, Māori and Pacific people, then others aged over 65 years)
  • People under 65 with underlying conditions
  • People living in long-term residential care settings
Group two
Second group of people to receive the vaccine in each scenario
  • High risk frontine health workforce
  • High risk frontline public sector and emergency services
  • High risk frontline health workforce
  • High risk frontline public sector and emergency services
  • High risk frontline health workforce
  • High risk frontline public sector and emergency services
  • Remaining frontline health workforce
Group three
Third group of people to receive the vaccine in each scenario
  • People in the community, including older people and those with underlying conditions
  • At risk health and social services workforce
  • People in the community, including older people and those with underlying conditions
  • At risk health and social services workforce
  • Remaining health and public sector workforce
  • Other population groups

Impact of the vaccine on our borders

At this stage, we can't advise how the availability of vaccines in New Zealand and internationally will influence any changes to our border controls.

Purchase of COVID-19 vaccines

Securing COVID-19 vaccines through Advance Purchase Agreements with pharmaceutical suppliers is an important part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy.

We’re part of the global COVAX facility, and we’re also independently negotiating purchase agreements that guarantee supplies of any successful and approved vaccines. These strategies mean we will secure enough vaccines for the entire country, several times over.

These agreements are subject to the vaccines successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand.

Pfizer and BioNTech

The first COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement was for 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech. This is enough vaccines for 750,000 people. Each person will need two doses of this vaccination, about a month apart.

Read more: First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed.

Janssen Pharmaceutica

An in-principle agreement has been signed with Janssen Pharmaceutica to purchase up to 5 million COVID-19 vaccines. The Janssen vaccine is likely to be a single-dose.

Read more: Agreement advanced to purchase up to 5 million COVID-19 vaccines


In December 2020, the Government signed an agreement with Novavax to purchase 10.72 milion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccine requires two doses and will therefore be enough for 5.36 million people. New Zealand is not likely to receive this vaccine until later in 2021.

Read more: Two new vaccines secured, enough for every New Zealander


A fourth Advance Purchase Agreement was signed in December 2020 with AstraZeneca. This vaccine also requires two vaccines and the Government has purchased 7.6 million doses which is enough for 3.8 million people.

Read more: Two new vaccines secured, enough for every New Zealander

Investment of vaccines

The Government is investing in these areas to support the COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy:

  • Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo – a team of local and international experts with proven capability in vaccine research and development
  • Auckland biotechnology company Biocell – upgrading their facilities to boost our local manufacturing capacity and support global vaccine production
  • International research collaboration, including those managed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
  • Official development assistance for the vaccine alliance, Gavi, which distributes vaccines to developing countries.

COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund

Additional funding has been set aside within the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. This funding will help to secure access to promising vaccine candidates.

Further information

COVID-19 vaccine strategy - Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Dr Nikki Turner answers questions about the Covid-19 vaccines

I'm Dr Nikki Turner. I'm an academic, general practitioner (GP)

I'm Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre which is based at the University of Auckland.

Today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about Covid vaccines, particularly pertinent to New Zealand.

What is a vaccine?

So a vaccine is a product that you give to an individual and they recognize it as if it's a pathogen - as if it's a virus or a bacteria - and their immune system responds.

The immune system response creates a memory so that when the real disease comes along, you already have memory and you can respond really fast.

So you either don't get the disease or you might get it really mildly.

So that's the purpose of a vaccine overall.

How does the Covid-19 vaccine work?

What we know of the virus is that on the outer surface of the virus there's a protein called the spike protein.

All the current Covid vaccines are being directed against this spike protein.

That is what a body recognizes as the virus and creates an immune response.

How do we know that it's safe?

The vaccine development process is the same as previous developments and it requires going through all the proper steps and none of those steps are being shortened in particular, the most important process in developing a vaccine, is the large clinical phase three trials, where they compare tens of thousands of people given a vaccine, to the equivalent number given a placebo - either another vaccine or saline.

You require big numbers to ensure that for that amount of people there's no major safety signals.

Obviously that can't answer the question for if there's a very rare safety signal, like one-in-a-million.

And for those safety signals that requires, once the vaccine is in the community, you continue to monitor closely and check that there's no new signal that wasn't put up in the clinical trials.

This has happened in previous vaccines and the same process is taking place for these vaccines.

What about side effects?

So we know so far, from the clinical trials, that the side effects are what we've seen in other vaccines: you can get sore arms, redness on the arms, headaches, fever, sore muscles.

You can get allergic reactions.

To date, those are the reactions that we're seeing coming through on the clinical trials.

Safety will continue to be monitored - we're waiting for the final clinical trials.

We will all be watching closely around the world and New Zealand as these clinical trials proceed.

Will vaccinations be mandatory?

The New Zealand government has been very clear that within the New Zealand context, that no Covid vaccine will not be mandatory.

Are vaccines being developed too quickly?

These vaccines are not being developed quickly but a lot of the traditional roadblocks have been removed and the steps in vaccine development, many of these are actually going in parallel rather than in sequence.

For example, the roadblocks are often, you have to do all the studies before you go to the regulatory authorities.

The regulatory authorities now are looking at the data as it comes off from each of the studies.

The next big roadblock removed, is that the manufacturing plants that are big and really expensive, are being developed and ready, even prior to the vaccines being licenced.

That's a big financial risk, if the vaccine doesn't work, but the huge advantage is you can hit the ground running with manufacturing large amounts, once the vaccines are actually approved.

I think the big difference this time around is enormous international attention, scientists are working together, large amounts of funding and resources, and groups are working together in a way they never have before.

It's OK to feel hesitant

People are hesitant about the vaccine for all sorts of reasons and the first issue is: what is their concern and what is their Question?

Often the question is, appropriately, around safety.

So people understanding how we actually develop these vaccines, the importance of the large clinical trials, the importance of comparing vaccinated to non-vaccinated, so we really do understand the safety profile.

And then after that, people may have questions about what's in a vaccine, what's it going to do to me as an individual, will I react differently from somebody else?

Those are the sort of questions that we answer one-by-one with each individual.

In this section

  • To oversee the integral work of planning for and delivering the vaccines, a number of groups have been formed to offer strategic advice and guidance. These groups represent New Zealand’s interests across health, government, business, academia, Māori and community groups. Read more
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