Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been assessed and approved in New Zealand. This includes Pfizer, Pfizer paediatric, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Jcovden (previously Janssen).
Last updated: 31 March 2023
On this page:
- Vaccines available in New Zealand
- Vaccines previously available in New Zealand
- Approved by Medsafe
- What provisional approval means
- How the COVID-19 vaccines are assessed
- Streamlining the approval process
- The approval process for Pfizer
- If the vaccine contains new organisms
The following vaccines are currently available in New Zealand. They have been provisionally approved after a thorough assessment, and must give Medsafe ongoing data and reporting to show that they meet international standards.
Pfizer vaccines are given to people aged 12 years or older as a primary vaccination course.
Pfizer paediatric (child) vaccine is for children aged 5 years to 11-years-old as a primary vaccination course.
A paediatric Pfizer vaccine which contains a lower dose of mRNA is now available for tamariki aged 6 months to 4 years who are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19. This is a 3 dose course.
Pfizer BA.4/5 bivalent vaccine
The bivalent vaccine has replaced the existing Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for boosters. This vaccine causes the immune system to create antibodies against both the original variant of SARS-CoV-2 and Omicron subvariants to provide better protection.
The bivalent vaccine is recommended for eligible pregnant people at any stage of pregnancy or during breastfeeding, as long as it has been at least 6 months since their last COVID-19 vaccine or positive COVID-19 test.
Primary vaccination courses continue to use the original Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine or the Novavax vaccine.
The Novavax (Nuvaxovid) is a protein-based vaccine. It is available as a primary course for people aged 12 year and over. It is not recommended for pregnant people.
Novavax can be also be used as a booster for anyone over 18 years old.
The AstraZeneca vaccine was available for use in people aged 18 years and older as a primary vaccination course or booster dose, with a prescription. It is no longer available in New Zealand. If you have previously received or are eligible for AstraZeneca, you can still access the Pfizer vaccine, or the Novavax vaccine as a non-mRNA alternative.
Medsafe has granted provisional approval of Jcovden for primary courses and boosters for ages 18 and over.
Provisional approval does not mean Jcovden has been committed for use in New Zealand. Medsafe’s provisional approval is the first step, with further consideration required by Cabinet on options for its use.
Jcovden is a single-dose viral vector vaccine.
Provisional approval was included in the Medicines Act so people in New Zealand can get early access to medicines if it’s to meet an urgent clinical need.
It allows a vaccine to be used with conditions in place. This restricts how the vaccine is used by health professionals depending on the supporting data available at the time.
COVID-19 vaccines have been given provisional approval in New Zealand because data to support the longer-term safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines is not yet available.
After a vaccine is provisionally approved further consideration is required by Cabinet on whether to use this vaccine. Only then can the vaccine be used in New Zealand.
Medsafe is New Zealand’s medicines safety authority. It evaluates applications for all new medicines, including vaccines, to make sure they meet international standards and local requirements.
Medsafe will only recommend a medicine is approved to use in New Zealand if it meets these standards. If approval is granted, it will either be full approval under section 20 of the Medicines Act 1981, or provisional approval under section 23.
What Medsafe assess
Medsafe focuses on three key areas when assessing a vaccine:
Its assessment includes looking at:
- manufacturing and quality control information
- pre-clinical data
- results from clinical trials.
We’re moving quickly to make sure New Zealand gets the best protection against COVID-19, but this doesn’t mean cutting any corners.
Medsafe has made changes to its vaccine assessment and approval process so it’s more efficient. Medsafe has been:
- assessing large volumes of in-depth data from pharmaceutical companies as it becomes available. Usually pharmaceutical companies send all the data once all the studies have been completed
- talking to and getting responses from pharmaceutical companies as soon as it can. For example, Medsafe asked Pfizer to respond to its questions within a week – usually companies have up to four months to respond.
The Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) has been provisionally approved (with conditions) for use in New Zealand.
This means it’s been formally approved after a thorough assessment, but Pfizer must give Medsafe ongoing data and reporting to show that it meets international standards.
The approval process
The process Medsafe went through to assess whether the Pfizer vaccine could be approved to use in New Zealand.
- Medsafe started getting clinical data from Pfizer in November 2020.
- Medsafe streamlined its assessment and approval process. Pfizer gave data as it became available — rather than sending all the data once the studies had been completed.
- Medsafe assessed all available data to support the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine. This included assessing manufacturing and quality control information and results from large clinical trials.
- Following this assessment, Medsafe asked the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC) for a final recommendation regarding approval.
- MAAC reviewed Medsafe’s assessment. It agreed that the Pfizer vaccine should be given provisional approval (with conditions). Conditions include Pfizer giving Medsafe ongoing data and information, such as additional clinical trial and manufacturing data.
- Pfizer agreed to these conditions. Medsafe formally made the decision to provisionally approve the vaccine in New Zealand on 3 February 2021 and the provisional approval was renewed on 28 October 2021.
- Medsafe will continue to monitor the safety and efficacy of the vaccine as it’s used. It will assess ongoing data and reporting, such as large clinical trials across the world and reporting by healthcare professionals and people who have received the vaccine.
If any of the COVID-19 vaccines arriving into New Zealand contain a new organism, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will be involved. They’ll need to approve the import, development and field testing or release under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act).
EPA have a rapid approval pathway for any vaccines that are, or contain, new organisms which includes genetically modified organisms. They can look at applications at pace where needed and are working with Medsafe and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in preparation for the vaccines.