Children aged 5-11 may be able to receive a vaccine dose from the end of January, pending official approval.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield have provided today's update.
Watch the briefing here:
Hipkins said the Pfizer vaccine will still need MedSafe approval, but they had secured enough doses to begin vaccinating children from early next year.
He said 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 will be receiving advice by mid-December, and the government expects to start rolling it out before the end of January.
He said the government will still be taking a whānau-based approach and hoping to vaccinate any others who have not yet got their shot.
He said we were seeing more cases in children, partly because children cannot be vaccinated.
There was the potential for vaccinating children in school settings, Hipkins said.
Dr Bloomfield said about 20 percent of cases in the current outbreak have been under 12 years, but the "vast majority" of those cases has been from household transmission.
He said some of the worst case scenarios that were modelled some months back are not what the government was expecting with the move to the traffic light system because the effect of vaccination was being seen.
Hipkins said 93 percent of eligible New Zealanders have had at least one dose.
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 said uptake of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been low.
"It's in the low hundreds of people - about 650 so far delivered."
In a statement, Starship Children's Hospital developmental paediatrician Jin Russell, and immunologists Graham Le Gros and Dianne Sika-Paotonu celebrated the news doses for children would be coming soon.
"Every week we wait translates to hundreds more children infected with Covid-19 and being put into isolation because children are the last remaining unvaccinated group in the population," Dr Russell said.
"Even though children tend to experience much milder infections than older adults, they also suffer from the indirect impacts of Covid-19, such as infected or hospitalised family members having to quarantine or isolate, and inability to attend school. This is especially true for Māori communities."
She urged a school-based vaccination programme for greater equity and called for Māori children to be prioritised, noting that overseas studies that had found the rare but severe complication multisystem inflammatory syndrome was more common among Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and Pacific children, "raising concerns that similar inequities would occur here".
Prof Le Gros, who is also programme director of the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand - a government-funded partnership between Otago University, Victoria University of Wellington and the Malaghan Institute - pointed out the long-term effects of Covid-19 on children were also unknown.
"We really need this vaccine in our community, where there are a lot of vulnerable young children. This vaccine is safe in children, it's been proven already overseas, so we just need to get on with it," he said.
Dr Sika-Paotonu, a senior lecturer in pathology and molecular medicine at University of Otago Wellington, said paediatric doses would be an important step in helping curb the spread of the virus, especially given the emergence of the Omicron variant overseas.
"Of those affected by the current Delta outbreak, a total of 1680 or 20 percent were children aged nine years and under ... children can still catch the virus and become unwell, end up with long Covid-19, and for children and youth with underlying medical conditions, have a higher risk of serious illness and hospitalisation."
She said until vaccinations became available to children under 12, the best way to protect them was to get everyone else vaccinated, and also urged an equitable approach.
"Leaving any of our most vulnerable behind and unprotected, given the adverse health impact already seen for vulnerable groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, will have long-term consequences and impact ... vaccination is still key - please get vaccinated and help others do the same."
Traffic light system begins
From Friday, the country will move to the traffic light settings that were set out earlier this week.
Hipkins said the traffic light system is designed to keep us all safe but allow businesses to open.
"The framework is pretty simple and it will feel normal once people are in it and get used to it. The main message is that at every colour setting vaccinated people will be able to operate much more normally whilst taking a few key public health precautions, so getting vaccinated and having a My Vaccine Pass is the key to making the framework work for you."
He expected there will be demand for restaurants in Auckland, and said the vouchers announced today are being used as an incentive to get people out and about and comfortable with doing so again.
Fears of an Omicron future
Hipkins said Omicron was a cause for concern, but it was not a cause for panic.
"Our readiness and response planning in the event of a new variant of Covid-19 entering in New Zealand remains the same as it has been for previous variants in that we are ready and we have plans in place."
Hipkins earlier said the Omicron variant would inevitably turn up in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, but it is too soon to predict whether the country will revisit the plan to lift some border restrictions from January
He said this afternoon that the variant is still in its infancy and the evidence on it is being monitored closely.
PCR samples from cases at the border are being prioritised for whole-genome sequencing to ensure the variant is identified early if it arrives.
He said vaccine producing companies have been assessing how effective the vaccines are at combating the new variant and the government is also following that closely, but he said vaccines remained the number one protection against the coronavirus.
The government has said fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to travel from Australia without having to quarantine from 16 January.
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 underway.