Modelling showing thousands dead if COVID-19 vaccination rates stagnate spooks experts

There are 5 million good reasons to get vaccinated with new modelling showing that even if 80 percent of New Zealand is jabbed we could still face 7000 deaths a year.

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy beamed into the 1pm press conference on Thursday with the vaccine modelling the country's been waiting for.

The upshot is we're on track for 80 percent vaccination but it simply doesn't cut it, because 60,000 people could still swamp our hospitals with COVID-19. 

"Our healthcare system couldn't cope with this level of illness. We would need to continue to use lockdowns," Prof Hendy said, as he unveiled Te Pūnaha Matatini's research. 

And we'd have to get used to anti-lockdown scenes, because they'd be here to stay. 

"We don't want to use that tool and nor do we have to in the future," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"We've previously had to use lockdowns because we didn't have individual armour and now we do so we do want to move away from those."

Here's how: With 90 percent, things look up - big time.

"If we can get up to that 90 percent range then we can say goodbye to lockdowns," said Prof Hendy. 

Masks, ventilation, rapid testing and contact tracing would do the trick, though 50 people would still die a year - a stark reduction on the 7000.

"These figures are just horrible. They are really, really bad," says Andrew Sporle, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Auckland's Department of Statistics.

The more people left unvaccinated, the worse it is for Māori.

"Not only is it going to be sudden, not only is it going to be severe, but it's also going to affect really young age groups," Sporle told Newshub. 

This Delta outbreak, 13 babies under 1 have caught COVID-19, as well as 253 children under 12.

Prof Hendy's modelling is based on 5 to 11 year olds also being eligible for Pfizer. That's already on the horizon, and infants could be next.

"We are also watching the studies being done on under 5s and the key thing here is, if the vaccine is effective and safe for the whole population, that's a huge advantage, because it helps protect those younger members of the population," said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

Despite all these new numbers, the Government is still refusing to say at what vaccination point we open the borders. Ardern wouldn't rule out opening up at 80 percent vaccination. 

"There will still continue to be lots of debate around where you assess the efficacy of vaccinations and so on."

But it's a no from National.

"We're not envisaging a scenario in which we open up at 80 percent," said National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop. 

There's a small hardcore group of anti-vaxers. A few of them were out picketing a high school in the Hutt Valley on Thursday morning. But they are the few - we can still top 90 percent. 

"I see cause for hope," Ardern said. "I see here a pathway for us to use vaccinations to our advantage."