Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Jacinda Ardern says no level 4 with high vax rate, 15 new cases

A high vaccination rate would be a “golden ticket” for New Zealand and make level 4 lockdowns a thing of the past, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Ardern’s comment followed the announcement by director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield of 15 new Covid-19 cases in the community.

There are also two new cases in managed isolation.

Ardern told reporters at the 1pm Covid update that high levels of vaccination would mean level four lockdowns would be a thing of the past.

However it all came down to vaccination, she said.

Ardern said with the vast number of New Zealanders vaccinated the way we dealt with future outbreaks would be different.

She described it as a hopeful future with the aim to become the most vaccinated population in the globe. “

“Here is our chance to lead the world again,” she said.

“Get vaccinated. It’s the reason we should all feel hopeful.”

Ardern said she was aiming for the highest level of vaccination to give the highest level of freedoms.

She said this would provide the best level of protection for our youngest who could not yet be vaccinated.

Ardern said we were continuing to take a stamp it out strategy in our current outbreak. Today gave a glimpse of the future with high vaccination rates.

“We should strive for high vaccine [rates]. That is going to be the golden ticket for New Zealand,” she said.

On vaccines for those aged five and over, the decision would be based on expert advice, said Ardern.

“It will always be a health decision, always,” she said.

Bloomfield said health officials were looking at the evidence which was “promising”.

They were also looking at studies over-vaccination in under-fives, said Bloomfield.

Ardern said 13 babies and 253 children under the age of 12 had been infected by Covid in this current outbreak.

Ardern said the Government was taking on a range of information and modelling to help inform decisions about dealing with Covid in the long term.Vaccines matter and helped reached freedoms in society.

Ardern said vaccine certificates were a live debate for the Government in its Covid response.

Ardern said our traditional tools were being used to contain the current outbreak. In the future, the Government was looking to a future where different tools could be employed to counter outbreaks

Bloomfield said in addition to vaccination there were two other areas including baseline restrictions such as those used in level two and movement across the border.

Ardern said it was important to have high rates of vaccination across the population.

She added it meant high vaccination across, ages, towns and cities and ethnicities as a means to break chains of transmission.

Ardern said she didn’t want a situation in New Zealand where people lost their lives.

Vaccines would help achieve this, she said.

Ardern said she would be looking at sustainable tools in a vaccinated environment that could be employed on a daily basis that didn’t impinge too much on personal freedoms.

Ardern said as a vaccination campaign New Zealand had outstripped other nations.

Ardern said the rates of vaccination were high with extra hard yards were needed to get to the highest rates we could possibly achieve.

She said there was a need to get creative and work with communities on the ground.

The goal is to get people vaccinated. Let’s allow people to go out and do the work,” said Ardern.

Today's new cases

Of today’s new community cases, most are household contacts with three unlinked at this point.

There are 15 people in hospital with Covid -and three of these are in ICU.

More than 37,000 essential workers in Auckland have been tested this month and nearly 10 per cent of the population of Auckland’s Clover Park residents have been tested in the past couple of days after a call from officials for swabs to be taken by all residents.

Bloomfield revealed a new testing requirement for people travelling outside Auckland for those needing to take a one-off trip. They will need a negative test result within 72 hours of travel.

Mini-lockdown in Waikato lifts

Restrictions governing some parts of Upper Hauraki have changed due to no evidence of any spread outside the community.

Every teacher and student of Mangatangi School have tested negative for Covid, he said.

There is still one test outstanding.

The area was plunged into a mini-lockdown after a prisoner on bail from Auckland tested positive for Covid-19.

90% vax rate could prevent thousands of death but other measures needed

It’s possible to vaccinate 90 per cent of our total population, fresh modelling has found – something could spare thousands of Covid-19 deaths and life unencumbered by constant lockdowns.

But the modelling, carried out by Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers, also suggests that vaccinations alone won’t be enough to keep the virus at bay, with public health measures still needed.

With the Pfizer vaccine expected to be approved soon for use in children aged five to 11, the modelling found this could potentially lift coverage as high as 90 per cent – the threshold at the centre of a new Herald campaign.

Ardern said there were strong things to take away including vaccinations mattered the most and they were cause for hope.

She also said vaccines alone weren’t enough to counter the transmissible Delta variant.

Children were vulnerable and the public health systems were at risk of becoming overwhelmed

The modelling painted a much more optimistic than earlier modelling by the same researchers which found 97 per cent of Kiwis would need both Pfizer jabs for New Zealand to withstand Delta without the need for harder measures like lockdown.

But that was before the vaccine became available to young people over 12 – and before it could be assumed the shot would be approved for children older than five years old.

The modelling, however, still came with some troubling figures around what could eventuate if vaccine uptake – around 40 per cent of eligible people have so far received both doses, and 35 per cent one dose only – fell lower than 90 per cent.

Even at 80 per cent coverage of over 5s, and assuming only baseline public health measures and limited test-trace-isolate-quarantine, the modelling carried a median estimate of 1.1 million infections, around 60,000 hospitalisations and nearly 7000 deaths – all within a period of just a year.

At 70 per cent coverage, the corresponding figures were higher still at 1.7 million infections, around 110,000 hospitalisations, more than 13,000 deaths, and nearly 18,000 hospital beds occupied at the peak.

At 90 per cent, however, the modelling pointed to 171,000 infections – but only around 6000 hospitalisations, just over 600 deaths, and 438 beds occupied at the peak.

“The modelling results show the importance of New Zealanders achieving the highest vaccination coverage we possibly can,” modeller Dr Rachelle Binny said.

“If nearly every New Zealander gets the vaccine, we could avoid the need for strict Alert Level 3-4 restrictions.”

At the same time, the increased threat posed by the Delta variant has become clearer with recent data showing it is both more infectious and more likely to cause severe illness.

“The modelling tells us that for Delta, population immunity is still out of reach by vaccination alone,” Hendy said.

In an 80 per cent scenario, higher alert levels would still be needed to control transmission – but that need was reduced with higher coverage rates.

“If we can get vaccination rates well over 90 per cent of over twelves or into the 5-11 age group, then the virus can be controlled with more sustainable public health measures,” modeller Professor Michael Plank said.

“Testing, contact tracing and wearing face masks will lead to considerably better health outcomes.”

Binny described the alternative as “bleak”.

“Failing to reach these high levels of vaccination would mean we will need to keep relying on lockdowns and tight border restrictions to avoid thousands of fatalities,” she said.

“This could cripple our healthcare system, and Māori and Pacific communities would bear the brunt of this health burden.”

The model provided a rough guide to the benefits of high vaccination rates at the population level, not a detailed roadmap for reopening.

The results ultimately showed that, if we want to see an end to lockdowns, we need to strive for very high vaccine coverage.

It also showed how essential it was to achieve high vaccination rates not just nationally, but also in specific communities including Māori and Pasifika populations.

“The results here demonstrate the considerable benefits of achieving high vaccination coverage in the coming months,” Hendy said.

“The message from the modelling is that Covid-19 is going to continue to disrupt our lives for some time yet, but that we can minimise that disruption by ensuring we all get vaccinated.”

“There is no magic threshold for vaccination coverage. But the higher the coverage, the less restrictions we will need in coming years.

“And most importantly, we need every community to be well covered by vaccination. We can’t afford to leave anyone behind.”

Over the coming weeks and months, the modellers expected to release a more detailed look at what measures might work best in the community and at the border.

Meanwhile the Government says it has a “big mountain to climb” as it attempts to try and boost vaccination rates in ethnic and hard to reach rural communities where numbers are still lagging.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare said there were some Māori and Pacific communities whose vaccine rates were low and it was the government’s job to get them higher.

The Government has indicated it would need 90 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated in order to reduce restrictions and give people more freedoms.

Of the 3.15 million people who have currently received their first dose 298,008 are Māori and 192,841 are Pacific people.

Given high inequities built into the vaccine rollout, which has implicitly prioritised European/Other ethnicity through age prioritisation, Māori and Pasifika are being fully vaccinated at rates 40 per cent and 16 per cent behind the overall rate respectively.

Henare told the AM Show the numbers had improved significantly over the last six weeks, but they needed to “throw the kitchen sink” at every effort to make sure they had access to the vaccine.

This included sending more buses led by Māori health providers to harder-to-reach communities.

He acknowledged “they had a mountain to climb”.

The groups lagging behind were primarily based on ethnicity, but there were also low rates in the rural communities.

“The only thing I can say to everybody out there is make yourself available to the vaccine.”

Henare said as the country looked to reopen its borders and the focus shifted to those who had not been vaccinated, evidence around the world showed inequities would continue to grow for those communities.

It was the Government’s responsibility to ensure those communities had access to the vaccines now so the gap didn’t grow and some of these communities were shut out.

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