Low delivery of booster shots puts New Zealand at risk from Omicron – epidemiologist

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With New Zealand still in the early stages of its booster deployment, it is more vulnerable than other countries to the impact of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, says Professor Michael Baker.

The Omicron variant, seen in the foreground of the 3D render, should be circulating within the community within a few weeks.
Photo: 123RF

The University of Otago epidemiologist said Aotearoa had lower recall rates than some other countries and was not immune to previous infections, so it would be at higher risk.

He believes New Zealand is at a disadvantage despite new evidence from the UK that the variant which has spread rapidly around the world is less severe.

In the UK, the number of Covid cases has fallen this week after breaking daily records last week.

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The UK Health Security Agency’s latest risk assessment shows high confidence that Omicron is relatively mild for most vaccinated adults with previous infections offering protection.

Professor Michael Baker, epidemiologist at the University of Otago

Professor Michael Baker
Photo: University of Otago, Wellington / Luke Pilkinton-Ching

Professor Baker said that while this country’s overall vaccination coverage is comparable to that of the UK, New Zealand lags behind in boosters.

“Our overall vaccination coverage is quite comparable to the UK – it’s slightly ahead but we have much less of an increase.

“In the UK right now over 50% have had a third dose; that’s at the level of the total population. New Zealand is still heading towards 15%, so we’re a bit behind.”

He said this made the people of Aotearoa more vulnerable.

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“In New Zealand the only way we have immunity, and it’s the same in Australia as well, is to get vaccinated because we’ve had very little virus circulating so that means we’re actually more vulnerable and the people in New Zealand obviously who the most vulnerable are those who haven’t had any doses of the vaccine.”

The latest update from the Department of Health today shows that 720,000 people have received their booster dose.

He warns businesses to prepare for the tough times ahead when Omicron begins to move into the community.

He said it is likely to circulate in a few weeks and many staff will likely need to take time off.

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Professor Baker wants the government to delay the reopening of the border for a few months and also reduce the number of arrivals due to the high number of Covid-19 cases detected in a managed isolation and quarantine.

“Because it is straining MIQ’s ability to handle what is now the highest number we have ever had of active cases at MIQ.

“That would be almost 300 active cases being held there right now as we are adding an average of 30 new infected people every day.”

There were 25 new cases in the MIQ announced today.

He said delaying the reopening of the border will give people more time to make sure their vaccines are up to date.

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