The New Zealand Herald
Bubble beyond Oz down to jabs
Academics say PM right to want proof virus transmission curbed
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