All medicines approved for use in New Zealand, including vaccines, go through strict review by Medsafe to make sure they meet local and international safety and efficacy guidelines. Once Medsafe has reviewed all available data, it makes a recommendation to the NZ Government as to whether a medicine can be granted approval in New Zealand. More comprehensive information on this process is available on the Medsafe website.

The authorisation and availability of COVID-19 vaccines depend on:

  • Data being available to review, particularly in relation to safety and effectiveness. 
  • When Medsafe approval is granted and for which groups
  • When the vaccine can arrive in New Zealand. 
  • To obtain approval for use in New Zealand, each vaccine needs to meet strictly defined safety and efficacy criteria.

For further information as to how we got COVID-19 vaccines so quickly see this Insight

What does provisional approval mean?

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech was granted provisional approval for use in New Zealand on 3 February 2021. This means that it has been approved for use in a defined group and on the condition that Medsafe continues to receive and review further data about this vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. This approval can be extended to include other groups as clinical trial data are obtained. Click here to find out more.
This approval differs from that granted in other countries, such as the US, UK and in Europe, in which these vaccines were granted ‘emergency-use approval’ based on early data and an urgent need to start vaccinating soon as safely possible. New Zealand was in the fortunate position to be able to wait, while receiving the most current clinical trial and post-licensure data, to make the decision to approve the use of this vaccine. Once sufficient data has been obtained, it is likely that Medsafe will convert the provisional consent to full consent in due course.

Watch this video from the Ministry of Health with Dr Ashley Bloomfield and MedSafe's Chris James for more on the vaccine approval process in New Zealand. 

For further information about how our first COVID-19 vaccine was granted approval in New Zealand and elsewhere, see this blog.

Approval for use in children

The same stringent approval processes also apply for the use of vaccines in children. Medsafe has approved a Comirnaty for use for those aged 12–15 years following evaluation of clinical trial data showing, as expected, that the vaccine is both safe and effective in 12–15-year-olds and review of safety data from other countries where the vaccine has already been approved in this age group, including the UK and the US. A decision is awaited as to when this vaccine will be used in this age group in New Zealand. 

Further clinical trials are underway or planned for younger age groups, eventually from the age of 6 months.