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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

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COVID-19 vaccination roll-out in Canterbury and the West Coast

For up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out in Canterbury/Waitaha, West Coast/Te Tai Poutini and Rēkohu/Wharekauri/Chatham Island, see Canterbury and West Coast Vaccination roll-out.

The Pfizer vaccine (also known as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or Comirnaty) protects against COVID-19.

Medsafe has given provisional approval to use the Pfizer vaccine in New Zealand. Provisional approval means the pharmaceutical company must meet certain conditions, including supplying more data from its clinical trials when this is available.

Provisional approval is common. For example, the annual influenza vaccine gets provisional approval so Medsafe can place similar conditions on its suppliers.

How the Pfizer vaccine works

The Pfizer vaccine works by preparing your body to defend itself against COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine doesn't contain the virus itself and can't cause COVID-19.

The Pfizer vaccine is called an mRNA vaccine. It contains a molecule called mRNA, which has instructions for making the spike protein on the surface of the virus. The virus needs this spike protein to enter your body’s cells.

When you get the vaccine, some of your cells will read the mRNA instructions and temporarily produce the spike protein. Your immune system will recognise this protein as foreign and produce antibodies to attack it. If you're exposed to the COVID-19 virus in the future, your immune system will recognise it and be ready to defend your body against it. The mRNA from the vaccine doesn't stay in your body but is broken down shortly after the vaccination.

Who can get the vaccine

The Pfizer vaccine is free and available to anyone aged 12 and older. If you have a health condition such as cancer or are over 65, you're more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population and it's important that you get vaccinated.

See COVID-19: Underlying health conditions – vaccine advice from the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health recommends the Pfizer vaccine for all women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you have cancer, see Advice for people living with cancer from Te Aho o Te Kahu Cancer Control Agency.

See this infographic showing that the Australian and New Zealand governments along with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists support the use of an approved COVID-19 vaccination in breastfeeding women.

Check with your healthcare provider before you get your vaccination if you:

Getting the Pfizer vaccine

You get the Pfizer vaccine as an injection into your upper arm muscle by a trained healthcare professional. You'll get one dose followed by a second dose at least 21 days later. It's very important that you receive your second dose.

A trained healthcare professional will keep an eye on you for at least 20 minutes after getting the Pfizer vaccine to make sure you don't have any reaction to the vaccination.

See Getting your vaccination on the Government's COVID-19 website.

Side effects

Like all vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Most of the common side effects are mild and don't last long. You're more likely to get them after your second dose of the vaccine.

Some of the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine may temporarily affect your ability to drive or use machines.

See COVID-19: Vaccine side effects and reactions for information about possible side effects and what to do if you get them.

Serious allergic reactions to vaccinations are rare but do happen. That's why a trained healthcare professional watches you for at least 20 minutes after you get the Pfizer vaccine.

Signs of an allergic reaction include a skin rash, itching, swelling of your lips, face and mouth and difficulty breathing. If these symptoms develop when you're no longer with the health professional, go straight to the emergency department at your nearest hospital. Call 111 if you're concerned about your safety.

For more details about possible side effects, see Medsafe's consumer medicine information about Comirnaty.


When you get your COVID-19 vaccination, you'll be asked to provide some personal information, such as your name. This information will be recorded by the Ministry of Health in a computerised information system called the COVID-19 Immunisation Register. This is similar to how childhood vaccinations are already recorded in the National Immunisation Register (NIR).

This information may be used to help you manage your health and for the Government to deliver health services. It will be treated with care to make sure your privacy is protected, as required by the Privacy Act 2020 and the Health Information Privacy Code 2020. See the COVID-19 vaccines privacy statement.

Level of protection

The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be approximately 95% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 from seven days after you've had your second dose.

For the best protection, it's important to get your second dose – even if you get mild side effects after your first dose.

We don’t yet know how long the COVID-19 vaccine will protect you or if it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus.

The Pfizer vaccine and other vaccines

You can't get the Pfizer vaccine within two weeks of the flu vaccine or within four weeks of any other vaccine, such as the MMR vaccine. Having a gap between different vaccinations makes it easier to work out which vaccine may be responsible for any side effects.

If you are due for the Pfizer vaccine and the flu vaccine or the MMR vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine should take priority. It's best that you complete the COVID-19 vaccine course before receiving the flu or MMR vaccines.

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Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created April 2021. Last updated September 2021.


See also:

Helping with fear of vaccination

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Review key: HICOV-710714