The New Zealand Herald

Bubble beyond Oz down to jabs

Academics say PM right to want proof virus transmissi­on curbed

- Adam Pearse

Kiwis are likely to remain in the dark for months about when they will be able to travel around the world without needing to enter quarantine. That’s because experts say crucial data which could inform New Zealand’s next move on internatio­nal travel is still months away.

They are echoing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who yesterday said there was insufficie­nt data to support the idea of a vaccine passport, whereby people could enter New Zealand if they were vaccinated.

“Until we are sure that vaccines are [effective] in stopping you being able to pass on Covid to others, it won’t necessaril­y stop outbreaks,” Ardern told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

“As soon as that data comes through and gives us that reassuranc­e, we can change our plans up.”

Otago University epidemiolo­gist Michael Baker agreed with Ardern, saying the required data might not be available for a few months.

Baker acknowledg­ed that much of the current evidence indicated vaccines reduced virus transmissi­on, as expected. However, there were several reasons why a vaccine might not sufficient­ly mitigate transmissi­on but still avoid serious illness or death for the person vaccinated.

Once that data was available, Baker believed there were several countries New Zealand could include in its travel bubble, including Taiwan, China, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia.

Fellow Otago University epidemiolo­gist Nick Wilson repeated his colleague’s prediction robust data would not arrive until a few months’ time.

He reiterated there was strong confidence vaccines reduced transmissi­ons drawn from multiple avenues. These included several animal studies which indicated the vaccine could prevent infection and even when infection occurred, would limit the “viral load” in the animal, reducing transmissi­on likelihood.

Confidence was also drawn from evidence from Israel, where high vaccinatio­n rates have aligned with lower transmissi­on rates.

“The only thing left is more evidence from the real world where vaccines are being rolled out,” he said.

Wilson said the potential addition of further countries to New Zealand’s transtasma­n bubble in coming months could be done in several ways. The first would be to continue New Zealand’s focus on virus eliminatio­n and eventually eradicatio­n, by including countries with a similar focus — “green-zone” countries — into a travel bubble.

Global virus eradicatio­n, which Wilson favoured, would require a commitment from the World Health Organisati­on ( WHO) to promote a worldwide eradicatio­n strategy and for political leaders to support it, Wilson said.

Another option would be a vaccine passport which would theoretica­lly allow people from any country with proof of the necessary vaccinatio­n to enter New Zealand.

Wilson identified several issues with the vaccine passport option, namely the potential inequity of the process which would see people who had to pay for the vaccine or couldn’t otherwise access it, disadvanta­ged.

The final option was a combinatio­n of the two by which New Zealand would continue an open travel bubble with certain countries, but also allow vaccinated people from “red-zone” countries into the bubble.

Once again, Wilson saw multiple issues with this proposal given the extensive co-ordination required with other countries in the bubble to approve how the process would work.

However, Wilson was optimistic global co-operation to eradicate Covid-19 could occur following similar efforts made in fighting polio and smallpox.

The only thing left is more evidence from . . . where vaccines are being rolled out.

Nick Wilson, epidemiolo­gist

 ?? Photo / Jason Oxenham ?? Taiwan, China, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia would be early candidates to join NZ’s bubble, say virus experts.
Photo / Jason Oxenham Taiwan, China, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia would be early candidates to join NZ’s bubble, say virus experts.
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