10 Dec 2021

Covid-19: Ministry initially advised against early move to traffic light system - documents

1:26 pm on 10 December 2021

The Ministry of Health initially advised moving to the traffic light system only after 90 percent of the entire population - including children - were fully vaccinated.

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Photo: 123rf

The briefing, to the Prime Minister, from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, was released in a tranche of Covid-19 documents released today.

It shows the Ministry initially supported transitioning to the Covid-19 Protection Framework when vaccination rates hit 90 percent for the majority of New Zealanders.

This includes the adult population, 5-11 year olds and vulnerable groups like Māori and Pasifika.

"The aim of waiting until reaching these targets, and consulting on the strategy broadly in the meantime, would be to minimise hospitalisation and death while allowing as much social and economic activity as possible and retaining social license," the briefing states.

The Ministry also recommended the timing of a shift to the new framework also being conditional on health system readiness; primary care and community services as well as hospitals and ICUs.

It also expressed concern that the 'red' traffic light restrictions may be insufficient to limit transmission in all situations.

"The Ministry also advises that, even with 90%+ vaccination rates, enhanced restrictions would need to remain in the toolkit for combatting Covid-19.

"For example, if a new variant arose, to which the vaccine did not offer protection, this would reduce the effective immunity of the population, rendering the overall 'traffic lights' risk strategy invalid (i.e. requiring Alert Level 3 or 4 public health controls to regain control)."

The Asian population are currently the only ethnic group to reach 90 per cent double vaccination; Māori at 73 per cent, Pasifika 85.4 per cent and European/other at 88.7 per cent.

The paediatric vaccine for 5-11 year olds is not expected to be approved by Medsafe, the Government's technical advisory group or Cabinet until January 2022.

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