With a third dose of the vaccine vital for fighting off infection by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Ashley Bloomfield is urging all Kiwis to get boosted as soon as they can.
From January 5, people 18 and over whose second dose came four months or more ago is eligible for their third. Studies have found while Omicron is far better at infecting vaccinated people than previous strains of the virus, a third dose brings protection back to where it needs to be.
The previous wait was six months.
"Speeding up the booster rollout is a key part of our response to Omicron," said Dr Bloomfield, Director-General of Health.
For those waiting four months, third doses will be available at vaccination centres that accept walk-ins and drive-thrus from January 5, and online bookings from January 17. People who've already gone six months without a booster can already book theirs online. Alternatively, anyone eligible can get theirs sooner by making an appointment directly with providers or calling the vaccination hotline on 0800 28 29 26.
New Zealand has not yet had any community spread of the Omicron variant, despite an infected British DJ's widely reported rule-breaking. In countries where it's got a foothold, Omicron has wasted no time becoming dominant - driving record infection numbers two years after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first reported to global health authorities.
The virus this week managed to break through Hong Kong's tight defences, and it's probably only a matter of time before it gets past our border too. But New Zealand has the chance to get its population largely protected first, unlike most countries.
"The shorter interval means more than 82 percent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February 2022," said Dr Bloomfield.
"More than 326,000 people who were vaccinated in the early part of the rollout have already had their booster doses, which is more than 70 percent of those who were eligible in 2021. I urge everyone who is eligible to get their booster as soon as possible to protect themselves, their whānau and the wider community."
Some vaccination centres reopened on New Year's Day, including the Airport Park and Ride centre where people can get jabbed without an appointment.
"Our vaccination teams had a huge 2021 and did an outstanding job. They deserved as much of a break over Christmas and the New Year as is possible - and our heartfelt thanks," said Dr Bloomfield.
"From next week, that work starts again. With the majority of New Zealanders able to get the extra protection of a booster dose in the coming weeks, and the rollout of the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds starting on January 17, we are as well placed as any country in the world to meet the additional challenges that Omicron brings and to protect our communities."
While Omicron is better at infecting vaccinated people than previous strains, it tends not to make them as sick as the unvaccinated.