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Children aged 5-11 may be able to receive a Covid -19 vaccine dose from the end of January, pending official approval, the Government says.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield this afternoon provided an update on the Delta outbreak and vaccination rollout as New Zealand prepares to adopt the new traffic light system from Friday.
Hipkins said the Pfizer vaccine would still need MedSafe approval, but they had secured enough doses to begin vaccinating children from early next year.
Planning for the rollout of vaccines for children was "well advanced", though there was still some detail to work through.
The paediatric version is an adapted version and is about a third of the adult dose. He said Medsafe's advisory committee would be receiving advice by mid-December, and the Government expected to start rolling it out before the end of January.
Hipkins said the Government will still be taking a whānau-based approach and hoping to vaccinate any others who have not yet got their shot.
146 new community cases
There are 146 new community cases in the current Delta outbreak to report today.
The majority of cases (124) are in Auckland, but there are 14 in Waikato, four in Bay of Plenty and one in Nelson-Tasman in the South Island. The Nelson-Tasman case is not linked to an existing case and is being investigated.
There are also three new cases at the border.
Eighty-three people are in hospitals, including nine in ICU or a high dependency unit.
Bloomfield said the hospitalisation rate throughout the Delta outbreak had been between 11 and 12%, but the proportion of people requiring ICU has dropped from 5.7% down to 3% in the last month or so.
He said that was due to vaccination, as it prevented people being hospitalised, and the good work of clinicians.
Hipkins gave a shout out to 86% of New Zealanders who have had both doses of the vaccine. Ninety-three percent of eligible Kiwis have had one dose and the country was on track to exceed 90% overall if demand continued at this level.
He said 13,224 people have had a third primary dose for a medical reason and 51,127 people have had boosters which have only been available for a couple of days.
"We expected around 450,000 people to get boosters between now and Christmas so we're well on track," he said.
He says uptake of the Astrazeneca vaccine had been low. "It's in the low hundreds of people - about 650 so far delivered."
Traffic light system
The traffic light system will see Auckland exit lockdown and into the red setting with a return of many activities including hospitality.
Much of the country, including the entire South Island, will move to the orange setting which removes gathering limits for locations using vaccine passes.
Hipkins said it was recognition that New Zealand had moved into a new phase of its Covid response. The framework was pretty simple but at each setting vaccinated people will be able to operate more normally with their vaccine pass.
There have been 2.8 million vaccine passes issued. For about 90% of people the fastest way to get it was online, otherwise pharmacies can print out the pass.
At orange level, life would be almost like Alert Level 1, Hipkins said, but red would be more restrictive. The Government had been working hard to get the balance right and there would be some teething issues along the way.
"Mask, scan and pass" will get people through summer, he said.
Asked about business and requirements to check vaccine certificates, Hipkins said if it was a bar with a bouncer and controlling entry anyway it may be feasible to check more, or if at a larger event, more spot-checking may be more realistic.
He said the Government didn't want to create a system that wasn't workable. Asked about unvaccinated people getting in, he said the vast majority of Kiwis want to do the right thing and they were seeing really good compliance.
Omicron likely to arrive in NZ
On Omicron, Hipkins said there was a bit of anxiety about the new variant. He wanted to make clear it was cause for concern, "but not a cause for panic".
The Government had prepared for a new variant and it was "ready and had plans in place". The variant was still in its infancy but they were monitoring it.
PSR samples from any cases identified at the border were being prioritised for genome sequencing so the Government would know as soon as it arrived in New Zealand, Hipkins said.
"We do need to use a comprehensive approach to battle Covid, including vaccines, testing, mask-wearing."
Hipkins' advice was that vaccine was the number one protection including against Delta.
He said the Omicron variant would inevitably turn up in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, but it was too soon to predict whether New Zealand would revisit the plan to lift some border restrictions from January.
The Government has said fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to travel from Australia without having to quarantine from January 16.
Earlier today, National Party leader Christopher Luxon said risk-based home isolation for double-vaccinated citizens and with negative Covid-19 tests should already be under way.
- RNZ and NZ Herald