COVID-19: Doctors ready for speedy booster roll-out as Govt considers shortening wait time for dose

By Amy Williams of RNZ

Thousands more people could be eligible for their third booster vaccine dose this summer, and doctors on the frontline say they are ready for a speedier rollout.

Cabinet will today consider whether to shorten the wait time between the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and the booster.

Some health experts want the six-month gap reduced with studies suggesting three doses are more effective at stopping the spread of the new Omicron strain - 13 cases of which have already been found at the border.

South Auckland GP Dr Api Talemaitoga hoped boosters would be fast-tracked and many more would be eligible for their third booster shot over summer.

He said health workers are ready to man their clinics in holiday hotspots.

"We know where we normally go, if it's Queenstown for 2000 people from Auckland or the Coromandel then let's man those vaccination centres up so that people are available to deliver the vaccinations where the most people will be."

Just days away from Christmas, he said clinics needed time to prepare if the six-month stand down between second and third doses was shortened.

"DHBs, ministry and government just need to get the settings right so that we health workers can plan our lives around delivering this job."

General Practice New Zealand chair Dr Jeff Lowe, said doctors and pharmacies are ready to roll out many more booster shots.

He said there were enough vaccinators, appointments and doses to get started straight away.

"We have the vaccine supply to be able to deliver it and if we need to do it early we have the capacity to do that across general practices, pharmacies and vaccination centres. So if they do decide to move it forward, yes I think we can get ahead of the curve and start getting people boosted as soon as we can."

Eight million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been administered in New Zealand, and so far almost 213,000 people have had their booster since the third dose was rolled out at the end of last month.

National Party Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop expected Cabinet to decide to bring forward the gap - by how much will be based on the health advice.

"Many people out there are keen to get their third dose. We do have now quite a sophisticated operation around the country for the delivery of the vaccine, it took a while to get it going, but we now have a good system."

But what if the third dose becomes the focus, while take-up of the vaccine among more vulnerable Māori populations lags with just 87 percent first doses, and 77 percent fully vaccinated?

Only five of the 20 district health boards have reached the 90 percent first dose milestone for Māori.

Talemaitoga, who chairs the Pasifika GP Network, said the message needed to get out for people to get all three doses.

"My view is that we sell it as a package, you know there's immunisations going whether you're coming in for your first second or third the vaccination centres are available."

One thing's clear, evidence shows it's now a three-dose vaccine against Omicron and Chris Bishop agrees the message to the public will need to change.

"Most people have got it ingrained in them now that you've got to go out get vaccinated get your two doses. Actually the messaging probably needs to shift a bit which is yep definitely go and get your two doses but when you become eligible, whenever that is, please go and get your third dose as well."