COVID-19: Expert warns against opening Auckland's border too early, says 95 percent should be vaccination target rate

A leading epidemiologist has warned against opening Auckland's borders too early, saying the country's vaccination rate should be 95 percent or higher before we do. 

Rod Jackson, professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland, told Newshub while Auckland DHB hitting 90 percent fully vaxxed last week was a great start, there is a danger we could see a high spike in cases in regions with lower vaccination rates, such as Northland, once the border opens. 

Auckland's border is due to open on December 15 for people who have been double vaccinated or have recently had a negative COVID-19 test. 

Jackson said the new COVID-19 case numbers, while high, had remained fairly consistent recently, and that was being helped by the good vaccine uptake and Auckland remaining at level 3. 

He also said summer was helping with people spending more time outside.

"The combination of all of those factors means we are suppressing COVID-19, but it's just the calm before the storm. You can see COVID-19 is already dribbling out of Auckland but it is being kept suppressed by high vaccination rates. 

"As soon as we open Auckland's borders the big concern is when it gets into pockets of the country where vaccination rates are low. If it gets into a population where the vaccination rates are lower that is when we will potentially see a major upswing in cases," Jackson said.  

"I am behind Auckland going into the red traffic light but not opening the border yet, not until the rest of the country has a higher vaccination rate." 

Last week Auckland DHB became the first in the country to hit a 90 percent double vaccination rate, while Waikato DHB on Monday became the latest to hit the 90 percent first vaccination target. There are currently 12 DHBs who have hit the 90 percent first vaccine target. 

Northland DHB though, a region popular with Aucklanders over the summer, is sitting at below 70 percent first dose in some areas.  

Jackson says we should be bolder with our vaccination targets and try and get the country to 95 percent fully vaxxed or higher. 

"We really need to get high vaccination rates, we should be aiming for way over 95 percent of the population being vaccinated. 

"Hitting 90 percent [In Auckland DHB] was a fantastic start a lot of people said we wouldn't get there but we need to aim much higher." 

He said the best way to push up the vaccination rate was to bring in the traffic light system. 

"The best thing about the traffic light system is it brings home the benefits of getting vaccinated. 

"When New Zealanders realise there are things they can do if they are vaccinated and things they can't do if they are are not that will push a lot of people into getting jabbed."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to announce on November 29 when Auckland and the rest of the country will move into the traffic light system.  

Jackson told Newshub he believes there is only around 1 or 2 percent of the country who are hardline anti-vaxxers. He believes the rest are "vaccine-hesitant," and with the right education could be convinced to get the jab. 

"We need to get those people vaccinated and I don't see why we can't get way above 95 percent. 

"The evidence the vaccine is safe is overwhelming, particularly in comparison to getting COVID-19. Delta is so contagious so pretty much everyone who isn't vaccinated will get Delta. 

"If you get Delta the evidence is overwhelming that it is worse than getting the vaccine. 

"No vaccine is completely safe. They say one in 10 million doses of Pfizer leads to death, even if it were ten times that it still would be nothing compared to the harms from Delta. 

"This outbreak is an absolute crisis for humanity and it is an incredibly dangerous disease. 

"Getting vaccinated is a complete no-brainer."