All New Zealanders can have confidence in the safety and efficacy of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and Medsafe’s provisional approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech for 12- to-15-year-olds adds weight to this confidence.
New Zealand is again in the fortunate position of taking cues from international experience where the vaccine has already been approved for this younger age group in places with high rates of disease including Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.
International discussions about the ethics of vaccinating this age group are ongoing when the older age groups clearly have higher risk and more urgent need to be protected. Overall there are low disease rates in this younger group (for example for those aged 12–17 years, the CDC reports the current hospitalisation rates in US are around 1-2/100,000), so this enables us to take a considered approach to how and when people younger than 16 years may begin to be vaccinated.
While vaccinating across broader age groups does potentially enable more protection across the community, New Zealand’s current priority needs to be offering vaccination to as many as possible for those 16 years and above.
The current focus in New Zealand is on gearing up a mass vaccination programme of adults, with priority access given to the older age groups and those with underlying health conditions, which is keeping our health sector very busy on top of maintaining the routine immunisation schedule.
Logistically it could be feasible to consider school-based vaccination for this younger age group. However time is needed to prepare such an undertaking and it must be balanced with the resources required to also ensure that the regular immunisation programmes such as HPV and Tdap delivered in school are not disrupted.
The Immunisation Advisory Group awaits further decisions from Government next week about when and how the vaccine may be introduced for this age group and will be working in partnership to support equitable access for all New Zealanders to receive the vaccine, as able.