Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers are making the case for why New Zealand needs to aim for a very high vaccination rate, saying a rate of 80% of over-5s could still result in 7000 deaths a year.
They also say vaccination alone isn't enough, so other public health measures are needed longer-term.
Shaun Hendy and Nicholas Steyn from the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics, and Michael Plank from the University of Canterbury’s School of Mathematics and Statistics made their case in a new paper funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Te Pūnaha Matatini.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the paper didn’t reflect government policy, but was a contribution to the debate.
“We find that there are scenarios where, through a combination of high vaccine coverage (including amongst those aged 5-11) and moderate public health measures, population immunity is achieved, resulting in very low mortality burden,” Hendy, Steyn and Plank said.
“For example, with 90 per cent vaccine coverage of the population over the age of 5, a suite of moderate public health measures and an effective test, trace and isolate system, the modelling suggests there would be around 500 hospitalisations and 50 fatalities from COVID-19 over a one year period.
“There are scenarios where, despite a high vaccination coverage, population immunity is not achieved, resulting in a disease mortality burden that is an order of magnitude greater.
“For example, with 80 per cent vaccine coverage of the population over the age of five and moderate public health measures, the modelling suggests there would be around 60,000 hospitalisations and 7,000 fatalities per year from COVID-19.
“Such outcomes could be mitigated if more restrictive control measures, akin to current Alert Levels 3 or 4, were utilised."
Hendy, Steyn and Plank noted the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in New Zealand for 12-15 year olds, and may soon be approved for use in children aged 5-11 years.
They went on to say, “The results suggest that it would be valuable to develop a suite of moderate public health interventions that can be sustained for a long period of time if required.
“Interventions such as mandated mask use, ventilation requirements and some density or capacity restrictions for indoor venues, rapid-testing at workplaces and schools, and support for symptomatic people, confirmed cases and close contacts to isolate should be investigated.
“Effort should also be given to strengthening the test-trace-isolate-quarantine system, which would be expected to operate for extended periods with low to moderate levels of cases in the community, possibly punctuated by larger outbreaks in parts of the community where vaccine coverage is lower due to reduced uptake or waning immunity.
“Such outbreaks may require significant surge capacity and may need to be accompanied by more stringent public health measures. However, the higher the vaccine coverage achieved, the less such measures will be needed.”
See a copy of the research here.