Covid 19 Omicron: Plateauing adult booster rates concerning as new age group now eligible

Thirty-six thousand teenagers can get their booster from today after the Covid-19 Response Minister announced 16- and 17-year-olds are now eligible for the shot while expressing concern about plateauing rates among adults.

Yesterday, Chris Hipkins announced rangatahi aged 16 and 17 years could have a booster shot six months after their second dose following MedSafe approving the vaccine for the age group.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said over the next six months roughly 120,000 young people would become eligible for a booster shot.

“It’s really good news for protecting those young people from Omicron infection and we know the vaccination does appear to be protective against long Covid, we don’t know if it’s total [protection]. So that’s very much in their interest to have this available now.”

Yesterday, 72.7 per cent of eligible people 18 and older had received their booster dose. One month ago, this figure was 72.5 per cent.

Baker said it appeared the rates had stalled and needed a “big push”.

“I think for older people … the vaccine pass reinforced fully vaccinated is just two doses and many think ‘I probably have adequate protection now’. You have to keep reminding them … [their] protection against Omicron is relatively poor.”

Covid-19 vaccine boosters became available in New Zealand in November last year to anyone aged 18 and older who had their second dose at least six months prior.

The interval between the second dose and booster was reduced to four months in January and then three months in February.

The week-long nationwide Big Boost campaign in February led to 369,990 people getting the shot.

University of Auckland associate professor and vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said communication earlier in the vaccine rollout that double dosed meant fully vaccinated was a “mistake”.

“The booster is actually an absolute gamechanger and completes the course. We made a mistake at the beginning, calling it “fully immunised” [after two doses], that was simply double dosed. That was sufficient at the time.”

At yesterday’s Covid-19 press conference, Hipkins said a contributing factor to the plateauing adult booster rates was the stand-down period after being infected with Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health recommends people who test positive for the virus wait three months before getting any Covid-19 vaccination.

“I am concerned that our booster rates overall have plateaued at around that sort of 73-74 per cent marker,” Hipkins said.

“We are seeing evidence on some of those communities where booster rates are lower, actually people are now waiting out their time before they can get their boosters.”

Hipkins said he wanted to see higher booster rates but that New Zealand was also in an internationally comparable position.

“We shouldn’t let up; we still want to keep pushing.”

Petousis-Harris said there would be a number of factors influencing booster rates, including the three-month wait time after infection and misinformation discouraging some from getting their third dose.

“Boosters actually do something really important – they boost. They actually improve [immunisation] dramatically. That’s really important when we come to Omicron and I think a lot of people don’t realise quite how important that is and what a gamechanger that is.”

There were 12,575 community cases yesterday, 654 hospitalisations including 23 people in intensive care and 15 Covid-related deaths.

The seven-day rolling average of cases continues to drop. The average yesterday was 12,307 compared to 14,969 the Wednesday prior.

The 15 Covid-related deaths reported yesterday included people who had died over the previous four weeks.

The total number of publicly reported deaths is now 443 and the seven-day rolling average is 18.

Of the people whose deaths were reported yesterday, two were in their 60s, two in their 70s, four in their 80s, and seven were over 90.

Yesterday’s community cases were in: Northland (619), Auckland (2147), Waikato (1101), Bay of Plenty (604), Lakes (299), Hawke’s Bay (602), MidCentral (678), Whanganui (321), Taranaki (437), Tairāwhiti (128), Wairarapa (149), Capital and Coast (775), Hutt Valley (464), Nelson Marlborough (436), Canterbury (2108), South Canterbury (249), Southern (1368) and the West Coast (81).

The location of nine of the cases was unknown.

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