Coronavirus: No plans for annual COVID-19 booster for most people - Government

Despite rising Omicron case numbers, hospitalisations and reinfections, the government has no plans yet to launch an annual Covid-19 vaccination booster for the majority of people. 

But the minister in charge has revealed it is eyeing up a multi variant vaccination that could be made available to our most vulnerable by next year if needed. 

Dr Ayesha Verrall said the government was still getting expert advice on a whether a wider reaching ongoing Covid-19 immunisation programme was needed.

"At the moment it is uncertain, at the moment what experts are saying is it's more likely to be reoffers of boosters to people at high risk but of course we continue to watch whether there is true waning immunity, as opposed to just decreasing antibodies in people who are at lower risk as well, we haven't seen a sign of that. 

"People who have had three doses and are healthy young adults are protected very well by that regime."

The issue was still under review and the risks of vaccination needed to be balanced with its benefits, Verrall said.

That was currently being considered, she said.

"Meanwhile we continue to do all of the planning we need to do to make sure that we have an ongoing vaccination programme including making arrangements for the purchase of bivalent vaccine for Omicron specific strains."

Medsafe is currently reviewing evidence for bivalent vaccines and the government was getting expert advice on whether these should be used and if so what regime should be used, Verrall said.

Arrangements were being made with Pharmac and Te Whatu Ora for the operational deployment of the vaccine should it be needed, she said.

Verrall said expert advice that she had received to date indicated that the bivalent vaccines would be targeted at high risk groups, although that was not definite.

Approaches are still being made to people who are eligible for a vaccine or booster through text messages or through telehealth services and iwi providers, she said.

But they have cut back on advertising due to expense and the fact most people would have already seen them, she said.

Government had not received any advice at this stage that healthy people would need an annual Covid-19 booster, she said.

"We're making arrangements to make sure that we've got the operational plans and purchasing arrangements there should we make a decision to use one of these bivalent vaccines."

There was no evidence that people who had three doses of vaccine some time ago and who were healthy had waning resistance, she said.

"They do have reducing antibodies but that shouldn't be confused with waning immunity that protects you from severe disease," Verrall said.

The percentage of new Covid-19 cases which are reinfections is at its highest ever level with 19 percent of the 3912 new community cases announced today reinfections.

The vaccination programme will not successfully block infection, Verrall said, when asked about the high rates of Covid-19 reinfection.

"It is not designed to prevent infection, it is intended to prevent severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths."