23 Feb 2023

New bivalent Covid-19 vaccine booster to be available to over-30s

12:09 pm on 23 February 2023
Labour Ministers are sworn in by the Governor-General in a ceremony at Government House.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall has announced a bivalent Covid-19 vaccine - which includes protection against Omicron - will be made available to people over 30.

Bivalent vaccines use components of two strains of a virus - in this case the original strain of Covid-19, and Omicron.

There are expected to be a total 1.7 million of the bivalent vaccines on New Zealand's shores over the course of the next few months.

From 1 April, those aged 30 and up who have not had a booster or positive Covid-19 test in the past six months will be eligible for the new Pfizer shot, which will replace the old vaccine.

They will be able to start booking from late March through the bookmyvaccine website, on 0800 28 29 26, or through their primary care provider.

People currently eligible for a booster would be able to get the new vaccine from 1 March.

Dr Verrall said people at higher risk of severe illness would also be eligible for an additional booster, regardless of how many doses they had previously.

High risk groups include:

  • People aged 65+
  • Māori and Pacific people aged 50+
  • Aged care and disability care residents
  • Severely immunocompromised people
  • People aged 16+ with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe breakthrough Covid-19 illness, or who have a disability with significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities

People aged 16-29 could also seek a vaccination via a prescription from their doctor, but they would not be a target of the campaign.

"These actions will provide added protection to a larger number of adult New Zealanders," Verrall said. "Latest reporting from the Ministry of Health indicated 8220 cases over the previous week so the virus is definitely still circulating out there.

She said the introduction of the new vaccine had been timed to make the greatest impact ahead of winter.

She said vaccination was the best protection against Covid-19, and the government planned to offer the new vaccine alongside flu shots for older people.

"We're also planning for older New Zealanders and those most at risk of getting sick to get a flu jab at the same time as their Covid-19 booster. This will be part of a 'one and done' approach to help people stay well this winter."

Verrall said Pharmac would be making initial announcements about the influenza vaccine.

"In addition we need to build on the success that we had with rolling out antivirals - we had some of the highest coverage of antivirals for eligible Covid cases in the world. We really need to keep that up in order to keep our emergency departments and hospitals free."

She said the technical advisory group had indicated people over 30 were at higher risk from Covid-19 illness in the past month or so, and the bivalent vaccine would be useful for limiting Covid's spread.

There had been a lot of pressure on the health system last year, she said, with frontline health staff working incredibly hard.

She said this vaccine rollout was part of her drive as incoming Health Minister to be better prepared for the winter and ease pressure on emergency departments and other parts of the health system.

"This is a really important thing for making sure our health system continues to function well over winter. It'll keep you safe, and your whānau safe, if you get vaccinated."

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