There is a lot of distance yet to cover from here to December’s completion of the adult vaccine roll-out – and far more distance still until the pandemic ends. But the government’s announcement this week of the intended path forward was welcome. The announced measures seem largely sensible and balanced.
The government announced that it will prioritise first vaccine doses while increasing the interval between doses.
There are credible health benefits to a wider interval between doses in places where the virus is not prevalent. A first-doses-first strategy will get more people partially vaccinated far more quickly while maintaining the option to rush the delivery of second doses to places where an outbreak might happen.
So far, so good.
But MedSafe approved the vaccine for those aged 12 and up back in June, and no roll-out plan for youths is in sight. Delta, compared to earlier variants, seems riskier for children. Delivering the vaccine at school seems straightforward, as is done for Gardasil. But that requires starting soon as the school term ends 20 December and two doses must be delivered before then with appropriate spacing between doses, working around school breaks. The clock is ticking.
The government will be trialling home-based isolation for vaccinated Kiwi business travellers going on trips abroad.
Throughout the pandemic, political influence has seemed to have mattered in ensuring access to spaces in Managed Isolation facilities. It has bordered on corrupt – not bribery, obviously, but an inordinate role for political influence. This trial risks being perceived in similar ways.
But the trial’s structure makes an incredible amount of sense. Business travellers, whose companies will be named as part of the trial, will have strong incentives to be on their best behaviour: both the government and their employers will be watching. It provides a small-scale and lower risk way of ironing out the kinks for any broader roll-out later for other groups while easing border pressure directly.
The government also noted the obvious need to improve contact tracing and testing systems in preparation for more travel yet to come. It has promised improvements in both before, to little outcome. The Opposition should and will be watching closely to ensure delivery this time; the Minister may need to take a very direct role rather than trusting in assurances from officials. Whether Rako Science’s accurate, proven, and rapid saliva test is rolled out in our border systems in the near term may be a signal of whether the government is taking this seriously.
Most disappointingly, the government announced it has no plans to soon order vaccine booster shots. They will be needed by next year's second and third quarters as immunity wanes, and other countries like the UK are already ahead of us in that queue. Oliver and I talked with Auckland University’s Professor Des Gorman on Thursday about measures necessary for improving New Zealand’s Covid response.
This week’s announcements are promising. But there is still much ground to travel.
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich and Eric Crampton discuss the Covid response with Professor Des Gorman.