The Government has announced that the gap between doses of the second Pfizer vaccine and the booster jab has now been shortened from six months to four months in order to battle the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Hipkins has also confirmed the date for the rollout of the vaccine to 5-11 year-olds will be January 17 as well as changes to border controls.
“The advice from the Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group is that shortening the period between the second and booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine is an appropriate and pragmatic step and is in line with what other countries are doing,” says Hipkins on the reduced timeframe between boosters.
“Data is emerging that a booster dose with Pfizer provides better protection than two-dose course against the Omicron variant.
“While two doses is likely to hold a good degree of protection against severe disease from Omicron, a third dose is likely to offer great protection against transmission of COVID-19 and reducing the chance of more serious infections.
“The shorter timeframe will start in January and we’ll continue to follow health advice if it recommends the gap in doses can and should reduce further.”
Over 82 per cent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February 2022.
The rollout for children, following Medsafe’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for the age group, will begin on January 17 next year.
Hipkins was keen to stress that the Government has no intention of making the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for the 5-11 age group and that the decision to vaccinate your child is ultimately with the parent.
However, he strongly advises getting kids vaccinated.
“I encourage parents to make an informed choice and have their children vaccinated to protect them and those they love,” he says.
Hipkins also confirms the date for self-isolation to start for travellers from Australia, in place of MIQ stays, has moved from January 17 to the end of February.
Travellers will also be required to conduct their pre-departure testing 48 hours before travel, reduced from 72 hours.
MIQ stays will now stretch from seven to 10 whilst those workers currently mandated to be vaccinated will now also be required to receive the booster shot.
Whilst acknowledging the change to travel restrictions will be frustrating for those who have already made plans, Hipkins says it is necessary to ensure a healthy booster roll-out before travel gets closer to normal.
“We are fortunate we still have MIQ in place,” says Hipkins.
“Without it, Omicron would already be in the community and Christmas plans would be under threat.
“Covid-19 keeps throwing new curve balls and we have to respond in a way that continues to protect lives and livelihoods without putting in place restrictions and lockdowns unless absolutely necessary,” says Hipkins.
“Waiting till the end of February will increase New Zealand’s overall protection and slow Omicron’s eventual spread.”
Hipkins also stresses that large outbreaks of Omicron in the community are likely to be combated by the new traffic light system, rather than a return to the Alert Level system and subsequent lockdowns.