Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has set out a plan to start re-opening the borders, starting with a trial this year of home isolation or shorter MIQ stays for selected travellers
National is calling on the Government to order Pfizer booster shots as soon as possible, or else be left at the back of the global queue.
The call goes against advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which says evidence is not yet conclusive they will be needed, and wealthy countries buying them up will “exacerbate inequities” preventing some countries even getting their first doses.
Party Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop told TVNZ’s Q+A it was important New Zealand did not get left behind with booster shots, as a potential back-up if needed, as it had with the current global rollout.
Australia had “ordered millions” of booster doses, and so too the European Union and United States, Bishop said.
“We haven’t ordered a single one and I think that’s pretty bad.”
It was “staggering” the Government had no plans to order them, he told Q+A.
If New Zealand followed WHO advice to its “logical conclusion” then there would be no vaccinations here currently given the relatively low rates of infection, Bishop said.
Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said she was not able to say when or even if the Government could order booster shots.
The rationale behind booster shots would be if vaccine protections waned, and/or if it was needed to counter any new strains.
According to the WHO, this evidence did not yet exist. The organisation urged countries to instead focus on increasing global vaccination coverage, which would also assist with reducing the risk of new, more-infectious variants emerging and spreading.
“Administration of booster doses will exacerbate inequities by driving up demand and consuming scarce supply while priority populations in some countries, or sub-national settings, have not yet received a primary vaccination series.”
Verrall told Q+A the evidence currently was not conclusive.
“They might be helpful, another issue is they may not be what is required. We may need a whole other vaccine if there are different variants.”
Verrall was also asked about the growing inequity of the rollout, that has seen the proportion of Māori being vaccinated increasingly left behind.
At a per capita level, 10.2 per cent of Māori have been vaccinated compared to 17.5 per cent of European/other. This is despite expert advice Māori be prioritised due to higher vulnerabilities at a population level.
It comes as health leaders express disappointment at the recent mass vaccination event in Manukau, targeted at boosting low rates for Māori and Pasifika but where they only received a fifth of the 15,000 vaccinations.
Verrall said the low rates overall were due to fewer Māori in older age groups, and that in older groups the rates were about the same as for non-Māori.
Boosting the overall rates would remain a focus of the rollout as it pushed into the general population, Verrall said.
There was no intention to open the borders, as per the plans unveiled last week, if the discrepancy remained at the end of the year, Verrall said.
“We have no plan to open up while we work through the rollout. Elimination is probably the most pro-equity strategy, protecting everyone while everyone gets vaccinated.”
Bishop told TVNZ he was “incredibly worried” about the inequitable rollout and called on the Government to be more innovative in its rollout to ensure it was inclusive.
This included utilising GPs and trusted community leaders more.