Kiwis are one step closer to a Covid-19 vaccine after nine large freezers capable of storing 1.5 million vaccine doses were unloaded at the Ports of Auckland today.
The nine freezers will become New Zealand's central storage facility for Covid-19 vaccines and can reach the ultra-low temperature of -80C necessary to safely store the inoculations.
A Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesperson said it was also progressing the purchase of additional freezer capacity.
"Most of the freezers are likely to get installed in Auckland as our main storage location, and some in the South Island, but final details are yet to be confirmed, including storage facilities," the MOH spokesperson said.
"Some vaccines can be stored for up to five days in normal cold chain fridges in temperatures from 2-8C."
Ports of Auckland's head of communications Matt Ball said the port was able to speed up the delivery of the freezers by a week after another container ship reported it would be late, and the port was able to reschedule the vessel carrying the Covid-19 freezers.
"We're absolutely delighted to be part of New Zealand's Covid-19 response," Ball said.
The MOH is still working through what ultra-low temperature freezers will be needed to distribute the vaccines regionally from the main storage locations in Auckland and the South Island.
"We plan to distribute vaccines from our central storage facilities in a very controlled way to our cold chain network nationwide, which will ensure all New Zealanders have access to our immunisation programme," the spokesperson said.
"This will require strict inventory management and tracking to ensure the vaccine is given to people within its short expiry time once out of ultra-low temperatures.
"It is very different to many vaccines, which typically can remain in cold chain fridges for months or years."
Work on expanding New Zealand's cold chain nationwide is under way to make sure the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine can get to all Kiwis wherever they live.
Timeline for Kiwis to access Covid-19 vaccine
Every New Zealander will be able to get a Covid-19 vaccination with 15 million doses now secured with the roll-out planned to begin in the second half of next year.
The Government is also working "very closely" with Australia to secure roll-out across the Pacific, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The Government revealed it has secured two additional vaccines.
The new vaccines are AstraZeneca - 7.6 million doses for 3.8 million people - and Novavax - 10.72 million doses, enough for 5.36 million people.
New Zealand offers vaccines to six Pacific countries
New Zealand now has agreements in place to secure enough vaccines to inoculate everyone in the country, as well as everyone in Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Niue, and the Cook Islands, if the Governments of those countries accept the offer.
Ardern made the announcement this week, saying that if the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, then the Government's first priority will be to vaccinate border workers, essential staff and their household contacts.
The arrangements are for 750,000 courses of vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, 5 million from Janssen, 3.8 million from AstraZeneca and 5.36 million from Novavax.