7 Jul 2021

Covid-19 update: Medsafe gives Janssen vaccine approval, Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield speak to media

4:45 pm on 7 July 2021

Medsafe has granted provisional approval of the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older, Covid-19 Response minister Chris Hipkins says.

Hipkins and Director-General of Health of Ashley Bloomfield are also speaking to media with the latest on the vaccine rollout and cases.

Watch from about 1pm:

In a statement, Hipkins said provisional approval of the vaccine was the first step in the process.

Cabinet would weigh up options on using the Janssen vaccine follow advice from officials, with a "decision to use" expected some time in August, Hipkins said.

"New Zealand secured 2 million doses of the Janssen vaccine through an advance purchase agreement last year. We purchased a portfolio of vaccine options to provide us with flexibility, and the approval of a second Covid-19 vaccine is welcome news.

"Medsafe follows a rigorous assessment process informed by the most up to date medical and scientific data. Approval has been very carefully considered with safety the key priority.

"The medical evidence shows Janssen is a very safe and effective vaccine. It is a great addition to our vaccine options."

The Janssen vaccine would increase choices and flexibility in the immunisation rollout, Hipkins said.

"As a single dose vaccine, it may be useful in hard to reach locations or emergencies, or for those who cannot get the Pfizer vaccine."

Bloomfield said there was no doubt there was difference in the trials of vaccines in terms of efficacy.

"One thing seems to be clear is that the mRNA vaccines, so Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, seem to have the best efficacy profiles.

"These are the sorts of issues we'll be asking the technical advisory group for advice around, which is effectively under what sort of circumstances would they recommend the Janssen vaccine - or indeed the AstraZeneca and in time Novavax vaccines - would be appropriate to use those in a New Zealand setting, and that advice will inform Cabinet's decision."

Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca vaccine could receive provisional approval from Medsafe as early as next week, Bloomfield said.

Vaccine rollout so far

As of Tuesday afternoon, half a million New Zealanders had received their second dose of the vaccine, Hipkins said.

It was a "significant milestone".

"A month ago we had vaccinated around a quarter [of a million] New Zealanders so to doubling that number demonstrates how the rollout has been gathering pace."

The government was confident in the pace of the vaccine rollout -1.27 million doses of the vaccine had been administered, an increase of more than 120,000 on last week, Hipkins said.

"We're making good progress in group three, in the last seven days we administered 49,000 group three vaccinations. Overall, DHBs track about 6 percent ahead of plan, slightly down on where they had been before."

Hipkins said by the end of this week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) would be seeking expressions of interest from large workforces who wanted to do on-site vaccinations for employees.

He acknowledged last Friday's announcement on expanding the vaccinator workforce.

"We have changed the medicines regulations to allow more health workers to be trained to give vaccinations."

Bloomfield said there were about 9000 vaccinators trained for the rollout across the country.

"It's been very encouraging to see a huge range of both registered professions and unregistered professions, or people who have left the workforce are able under the changes to the medicine regulations to vaccinate as well."

All DHBs were now using the book my vaccine tool, with more than 325,000 future appointments already in the system, he said.

The tool will go live for people in group four from 28 July.

A dedicated Covid-19 vaccination healthline will be available soon with 2000 people to support it, Bloomfield said.

The country's largest shipment of Pfizer vaccines so far arrived in New Zealand on Sunday evening, two days ahead of schedule.

Hipkins said the government expected to ship out the AstraZeneca doses - once they were approved - to countries in the Pacific which had specifically requested that vaccine.

Fiji, Tonga and Samoa were well on the road to rolling out the AstraZeneca while Niue and Tokelau had indicated they preferred the Pfizer vaccine, Hipkins said.

Other Covid-19 news

Bloomfield said there were no new community cases of Covid-19 today, five associated with the border, three in MIQ and the two cases of the mariners reported yesterday.

The MOH yesterday reported the mariners were isolating on a boat off the coast of Taranaki. It judged the public health risk as low.

The mariners had three close contacts and all three were fully vaccinated, Bloomfield said, and they were all wearing full PPE.

"The ship has been at sea and as I understand it is returning to the port of Taranaki and my understanding is that crew onboard will be moved to a managed isolation facility and will remain there and be tested as part of the usual protocols."

Bloomfield also acknowledged the work of Healthline, which received its 2 millionth call last week since February 2020, and he said 97 percent were answered within 20 minutes.

"The Healthline service has been serving New Zealanders for more than two decades now, and that includes through the pandemic, the Christchurch terror attack, other national disasters and of course the increase in demand recently with the annual flu season."

Hipkins told Morning Report yesterday that the government was considering establishing dedicated MIQ facilities.

The government faces a separate issue with MIQ as it struggles to recruit more than 100 security workers to staff managed isolation and hotel quarantine facilities.

Meanwhile in Australia, New South Wales is expected to today extend its statewide Covid-19 lockdown orders by another week, the second time the stay-at-home orders have been lengthened.

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