Coronavirus: Expert urges caution for holidaymakers travelling to low-vaccinated areas

An epidemiologist advises higher caution in areas of low vaccination, as statistical breakdown of vaccination rates across the nation's suburbs is revealed.

The holiday season is upon us, but COVID-19 is in the community and Omicron is at our doorstep.

So should be people be considering the vaccination rates of the areas they intend to visit?

University of Auckland professor epidemiology Rod Jackson says it is a good idea.

Auckland had been at the heart of the Delta outbreak and it showed in their vaccination statistics. Of the 439 suburbs around Aotearoa with at least 95 percent of residents fully vaccinated, 176 were in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Central Auckland had particularly high rates with the suburbs hugging Hobson St and Queen St all above 95 percent.

Mount Albert, Mount Eden, Mount Roskill and Mount Wellington also had high rates, as does much of the North Shore - especially around Albany, Glenfield and Northcote.

Professor Jackson said all of that was great news, but people still needed to take precautions with COVID-19.

"People can enjoy the summer but they just need to follow a couple of rules," he said.

"Firstly they need to be vaccinated. Ninety-four percent of eligible people have had at least one vaccine ... that last 6 percent, they need to get vaccinated. That's number one. Vaccination is the number one protection against this virus.

"Number two is if you're in a crowded situation where you don't know who you're dealing with, wear a mask. We've all got used to wearing a mask, so in those crowded situations - particularly indoors - do wear a mask.

"And thirdly, we need to use our COVID Tracer apps because that's the third line of defence. If you use that app and you were exposed, go get a test so you know whether you've got COVID or not."

In addition to Auckland's high vaccination rates, most of New Zealand's main centres also had reasonably high rates while inland Otago's high vaccination levels stand out among the smaller population centres.

But despite the high rate nationally, some areas were lagging. Just over 40 suburbs had rates below 75 percent double jabbed - with almost half of those concentrated in Northland and another 20 percent in Bay of Plenty.

Prof Jackson said people might want to think twice about holidaying in places with low vaccination.

"In the current outbreak, if you are unvaccinated you have 10 times the risk of actually having COVID. So if I was vaccinated and I was holidaying in an area where there was a low vaccination rate I would think differently. I would be wary about where I went, I would be wary about the shops I went into, I'd be more wary about who I am interacting with because the first few days of COVID people often don't have symptoms. You are at increased risk if you are in an area where there are a large number of people who are unvaccinated."

One such place was Murupara - where less than 55 percent eligible residents were fully vaccinated.

It was the only area in the country where full vaccination rates of those 12 and over sat below 60 percent.

The next lowest was Lake Brunner, home to the Gloriavale religious community on the West Coast. Just over 60 percent had received two doses, however, more than 81 percent had got their first jab - suggesting it was improving.

Murupara Community Board chair Jackie Te Amo said things were also improving slowly there, with 68 percent now having had a first dose, but she was worried about the Christmas period.

"Christmas time is a time of family, it's when we see the masses coming home - they're coming home from all different parts of New Zealand. We don't know if they've got COVID. I just feel that it's great that they're coming home, but it's about ensuring they're not sick and ensuring they're being tested.

"I think there's a bit of a fear inside of our community around that but we can't stop them from coming in, they are actually from home - from our communities."

Confirmation earlier this week of a case in the community was a wake up call for locals to get vaccinated and get a test if they were sick.

But people were leaving it too late, Te Amo said.

"We are talking about vulnerable communities here and people are waiting until it actually hits their community and then they're trying to figure out how can I get myself vaccinated. That's not what we want you to do, we want you to get vaccinated prior to COVID reaching your community."

Te Amo had been strongly advocating for people to get their shots, and she would continue do so over the holiday period, she said.

Meanwhile, Manukau Ward Councillor Efeso Collins said even in Counties Manukau - where more than 91 percent of people were fully vaccinated - the threat of COVID was already affecting behaviour.

"When we saw schools reopen there were a number of schools barely hitting 50 percent attendance rate, and that will flow into how we interact now with the summer holidays," he said.

"There are council swimming pools around south Auckland and some of them are reporting their lowest ever participation rates because we know many families are still really concerned."

A larger proportion of Pasifika and Māori were under the age of 12 compared to the general public.

Much of the fear came with the lack of protection for families' youngest members.

Many were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to vaccinate their children next month, Collins said.

You can check vaccination rates in your suburb by clicking here.