Covid fatigue: Health officials pessimistic over booster uptake

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Health professionals are expecting a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose will be less popular in its uptake.

A second booster - or fourth dose - is now available for everyone aged over 50, as well as health, aged-care and disability workers over the age of 30.

The Ministry of Health recommended people stay up to date with vaccinations but significantly fewer people have received their first booster dose than the first two jabs.

Only 72.9 percent of the total eligible population have received a first booster shot, equating to 987,833 eligible people not receiving it.

A number of eligible people on the streets of Wellington wanted a fourth dose but did not know it was available.

One man said he would have "probably expected to know" before being asked by RNZ because the announcement was made hours beforehand.

Another man said that "it always must be of concern" that a public health measure appeared to not have reached its intended audience.

Similarly, Rotorua-based GP Cate Mills said she knew an announcement was imminent but did not know it had happened until contacted by RNZ.

She now could have patients ask for it today and has previously had some enquire.

Rotorua is in the Lakes District Health Board area, where just over 67 percent of eligible people have had the first booster shot.

It is the second worst rate among DHBs for boosters, slightly above its neighbour Bay of Plenty (other DHBs have worse first and second dose rates).

With more than a quarter of people nationally who turned up for the first two Covid-19 vaccinations not returning for a third, Mills expected those eligible would be even less interested in a fourth dose.

"It might only be 50 percent," she said.

Call for a shorter wait time

Otago University epidemiologist Nick Wilson was expecting more than half of those eligible for the fourth dose to take it.

"I would hope it would be much higher."

He wanted people to get vaccinated to keep them out of hospital and help ease the strain on the health system.

But he said many may be able to get the fourth dose only once winter was over - noting people were not supposed to get the jab within three months of having Covid-19 and must wait six months after their last shot.

Wilson said the six-month wait should be shortened "maybe even down to three or fourth months".

He suggested decisions around that could wait until officials saw what the actual fourth dose uptake was like.

Pasifika GP Network chair Dr Api Talemaitoga wanted to be optimistic but ultimately thought there was Covid-19 fatigue and convincing people to get a fourth dose would be a "hard sell".

"People are tired of hearing about the Covid messages," he said.

"A lot of people have had Covid in Aotearoa and may think 'that's enough - I don't need to have the booster shot because I've already had Covid'."

Talemaitoga said officials could not leave it to medical professionals to get the message out because they were already exhausted.

He said vaccination needed to be clearly available and accessible.

"I know it's going to be hard but that doesn't mean we should not try and still get as many of ourselves boosted with another dose."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said most of those in the fourth dose group would be over their six-month wait in July and August.

The ministry was planning to run an advertising campaign as well as directly contacting people when they become eligible.

Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall said the criteria for who can be boosted would continue to be reviewed.

She said the message remained for young and old to get vaccinated when they could to protect themselves and others.

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