Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
More eligible for second booster
The age of eligibility for second Covid-19 boosters is being reduced to 40 for Ma¯ori and Pacific peoples, health officials have announced in the first press briefing in two months.
Deputy Director-General and lead of the Public Health Agency Dr Andrew Old, Ministry of Health chief science adviser Dr Ian Town and Te Whatu Ora interim national medical director Dr Pete Watson held the briefing at Middlemore Hospital, in Auckland, on Wednesday.
It was the first dedicated Covid-19 press briefing since September 21.
Town said updated advice had been made to the DirectorGeneral of Health to lower the eligible age for Ma¯ori and Pacific peoples to receive their second booster to 40, from Friday, November 18.
Until now, only those over the age of 50 were eligible to receive their second booster, as well as health and disability workers over the age of 30.
Town said the recommendation was made as ‘‘clear evidence’’ showed the risk of death from Covid-19 for Ma¯ori and Pacific peoples was around twice that of the general population. They also had a two-to-threefold increased risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19, Town said.
When asked whether officials considered expanding second boosters for everybody, Town said the focus had been on those at greater risk. The risk of hospitalisation under the age of 40 was ‘‘really quite low’’, he said.
Old also recommended people reconsider mask use in certain settings, ‘‘beyond the mandate’’ required in healthcare. He said the ‘‘three C’s’’ – closed, crowded or close contact places – were a handy guide to where the risk of contracting Covid-19 was higher, and ‘‘masks continue to be recommended’’. These were places such as public transport, Old said.
Cases had been stabilising, to a rolling average of just over 3000 a day. Wastewater supported that trend of stabilisation, he said.
This comes after cases were ‘‘substantially increasing’’ since early October. Experts linked that bump to removing restrictions.
However, the number of patients in hospital with the virus had increased slightly as of midnight on Sunday, Old said, with 339 people in hospital, up from 322 the previous Sunday.
Old said it was too early to say whether the current plateau would be sustained, and there were some signs cases were increasing again.
‘‘The outlook for summer . . . at this point, remains uncertain.’’
Old said the expected increase in cases and mix of variants meant we ‘‘need to keep our collective eye on the ball’’.
Recent increases in cases meant Aotearoa was ‘‘not out of the Covid woods yet’’
Officials were planning for a possible continued increase in cases and hospitalisations to the end of the year, he said.
It was ‘‘more challenging’’ now than it had been to predict what New Zealand’s Covid outbreak would look like, amid new subvariants, waning immunity and use of antiviral medicine, he said.
While there was no evidence at this stage that newer subvariants were leading to more severe disease, the likes of BQ.1.1 and XBB were some showing a growth advantage – meaning they were starting to outcompete more established variants, such as BA.5, both here and abroad.
Recent modelling on the potential impact of these Omicron subvariants suggested daily cases could be up to between 10,000-11,000 – similar to the July peak.
Under the assumptions made by Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa, hospitalisations could also peak at about 100 a day, slightly higher than the mid-winter peak.
It comes as Tuesday had the highest day of reported cases – 4282 – since August 17.
Ahead of summer, Old urged people to think and plan for what they would do if they developed Covid-19 away from home.
He suggested people pre-order rapid antigen tests before they went away, and think about what would happen if they tested positive and needed to stay where they were.
That included considering packing a kit, including masks, RATs and prescription medicines they might need.