COVID-19 vaccines in Aotearoa

Learn about the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Aotearoa New Zealand — Pfizer and Novavax. Learn who can have them and how they work.

How COVID-19 vaccines protect you

The COVID-19 vaccines available in Aotearoa New Zealand are Pfizer and Novavax. They stimulate your body’s immune system to make antibodies and fight the virus.

The vaccines help prevent you from:

  • getting infected
  • having COVID-19 symptoms
  • severe illness.

This means you could have COVID-19 with no symptoms or will have fewer, milder symptoms and recover faster.

Being up to date with your immunisations means that you might still get infected with COVID-19. But it significantly reduces your chances of becoming seriously ill or ending up in hospital.

Vaccine safety

COVID-19 vaccines are one of the most well-studied vaccines ever made.

They needed to be rolled out quickly, but that does not mean safety was compromised. The Pfizer vaccine we are using in Aotearoa New Zealand is held to the same high safety standards as any other medicine.

How does the vaccine work

Pfizer vaccines

The main COVID-19 vaccine we use for most people in Aotearoa is made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

It is also known by its brand name, Comirnaty. It is an mRNA-based (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine.

The vaccine used is updated according to the strain of COVID-19 circulating in the community at the time.

You should not get the Pfizer vaccine if you have had a severe allergic reaction to this vaccine or its ingredients. Talk to your vaccinator or healthcare provider about your options.

Pfizer paediatric

Pfizer paediatric (child) is a vaccine that contains a lower dose of mRNA vaccine. It is:

  • for tamariki aged 5 years to 11 years old
  • infants aged 6 months to 4 years who are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19.

How the Pfizer vaccine works

The Pfizer vaccine (Comirnaty) is an mRNA vaccine that contains the genetic code for an important part of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus called the ‘spike protein’. Spike proteins are the little projections on the surface of the virus.

  1. Once you have had the vaccine, your body reads the genetic code and makes copies of the spike protein.
  2. Your immune system detects these spike proteins and learns how to recognise and fight against COVID-19. It knows it needs to attack the virus to protect it from spreading in your body.

The genetic code is used by the immune system for as long as it needs it. After that it is broken down by the lymph nodes. This usually takes a few days. In some cases, it can take up to 2 months. 

The Pfizer vaccine cannot give you COVID-19

Novavax vaccines

The Novavax (Nuvaxovid) COVID-19 is a protein-based vaccine. It is a different COVID-19 vaccine option for:

  • anyone aged 12 years and over for their initial dose, 3 weeks apart
  • for people ages 18 and over for an additional dose.

You need a prescription if your initial dose was not Novavax and you want your second dose to be Novavax. You can get a prescription at the vaccinating Novavax clinic or before your appointment with your healthcare provider for free.

Novavax additional doses

If you are aged 18 or older, you can get up to 2 Novavax additional doses after you finish your initial course.

  • Your first Novavax vaccine is available 6 months after you finished your initial course.
  • Your second Novavax vaccine is available 6 months after your first vaccine.

If you get COVID-19, it is recommended that you wait 6 months before you get an additional dose.

Prescriptions are not required for either a first or second Novavax additional dose.

Novavax and pregnancy

There is currently not enough data on Novavax to recommend it during pregnancy.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the preferred option for someone who is pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Pregnancy and immunisations

How the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine works

Novavax (also known as Novaxovid) is a protein-based vaccine. It has 2 doses for the initial course, with a recommended 3 weeks between doses. It is given as an injection into the deltoid or upper arm muscle.

The Novavax vaccine is an adjuvant vaccine that presents recombinant spike protein to the body's immune system. The body reacts by making antibodies that protect against infection from COVID-19.

The Novavax vaccine cannot give you COVID-19

How vaccines are approved for use in Aotearoa

Medsafe is Aotearoa New Zealand’s medicines safety authority. It checks applications for all new medicines, including vaccines, to make sure they meet international standards and local requirements.

It will only recommend approving a medicine for use in Aotearoa if it meets these standards.

Medsafe focuses on 3 key areas when assessing a vaccine:

  • safety
  • efficacy
  • quality.

Its assessment includes looking at:

If the vaccines contain new organisms

If any of the COVID-19 vaccines arriving into Aotearoa contain a new organism, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will be involved.

New organisms — Environmental Protection Agency (external link)

Vaccine side effects

As with all medicines, you might experience some mild side effects when you get a COVID-19 vaccination. This is common, and a sign that your body is learning to fight the virus.

COVID-19 vaccine side effects and reactions

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