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UPDATE 1-New Zealand will get first batch of coronavirus vaccines next week

(Adds details)

WELLINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - New Zealand will receive its first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine next week, ahead of previous expectations of receipt by the end of March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday.

Ardern said the government expects to start offering the vaccine to border and managed isolation facility workers on Feb. 20.

“Last year we indicated the vaccine would arrive in quarter two, and earlier this year we updated that to quarter one. It’s pleasing to be receiving doses this early in quarter one,” Ardern said in a news conference in Auckland.

The approximate 12,000 border workers would be vaccinated within a 2-3 weeks time frame after receiving the vaccines.

The next group to be vaccinated will be border workers’ household contacts, as they have high chance contracting the virus.

After that would be healthcare and essential workers and those most at risk from COVID-19, such as the elderly and those with medical conditions, Ardern said.

Vaccinations for the wider population is expected to start in the second half of the year.

“We have pre-purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free, and the Pacific as well,” she said.

New Zealand has said it secured up to 750,000 courses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through an Advance Purchase Agreement, and was seeking a further small allocation through the COVAX Facility.

Medicines regulator is also in talks with AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novavax regarding the approval of their COVID-19 vaccines.

With vaccination drives underway in dozens of countries, pressure has been mounting on Ardern to start inoculations for the country’s 5 million people, even though New Zealand has virtually eliminated the virus. (Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)

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