Booster vaccinations will be available throughout Aotearoa from Monday although ensuring people are double vaccinated remains the priority.
Some healthcare and border workers, kaumātua and those in aged care who have been fully vaccinated for six months or more can now get their boosters, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Sunday.
The Ministry of Health expects 455,847 people to be eligible for a booster shot by the end of the year.
"Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19. Booster doses will be available free for anyone in New Zealand aged 18 or older who has completed their two-dose course more than six months ago," Dr Bloomfield said.
"We're particularly keen to make sure our healthcare and border workers - who are most at risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 - and older people including kaumātua and those in residential care are aware that boosters are available from Monday, and that they're eligible if they completed their course of Pfizer more than six months ago."
Dr Bloomfield said boosters would be available at places already being used for the vaccine rollout - at vaccination sites, GPs and pharmacies, and on-site in aged residential care facilities (ARCs).
"And while the booster programme is an important next step in our pandemic response, increasing the vaccination coverage of first and second doses, particularly for Māori, Pacific and disabled communities, remains our number one priority in our nationwide vaccination rollout, particularly with COVID in the community and as new strains emerge."
As part of the booster programme, DHBs are trying to reach those who were in the early priority groups of the rollout.
Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, which runs the vaccine rollout on behalf of Auckland DHBs, starts its outreach activity at aged residential care facilities this week at Kenderdine Park Rest Home in Papatoetoe.
It was the first rest home the DHBs started vaccinating at, when NRHCC began its vaccination outreach to aged care facilities last April.
Bay of Plenty DHB will begin its booster programme among aged care residents, and is planning to administer around 2000 doses by Christmas.
Southern DHB is working with local Māori and Pasifika providers to ensure over 65s in their communities get the opportunity to receive a booster dose.
Dr Bloomfield said people who received earlier doses overseas would be eligible for a booster shot, which will be the Pfizer vaccine.
"There's no need to rush to get the booster. The science shows fully vaccinated people remain really well protected from infection, and from being seriously ill if they do get COVID-19. There is plenty of existing stock of the Pfizer vaccine in New Zealand and this will not run out."
Other key points:
Health officials are assessing the latest international information on the new B.1.1529 variant which the World Health Organisation has named Omicron. There is no change to the advice on booster vaccines, which is for people over-18 to get their booster dose at least six months after their second dose.
Those who are eligible can now use the book my vaccine website, or phone 0800282926, to book a free booster vaccination.
Booster doses are not currently required for the public to get a vaccine certificate for access to events, gyms, churches, hairdressers, and other services and premises.
People who are immuno-suppressed and receiving a third dose of Pfizer as part of their primary vaccinations will need to wait at least six months after the third dose.