sign up log in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Covid-19 update: Timing of booster shots brought forward, border opening delayed, vaccines to be available for children from January 17

Public Policy / news
Covid-19 update: Timing of booster shots brought forward, border opening delayed, vaccines to be available for children from January 17
Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield. Press Gallery pool image.

The Government is making a number of changes to Covid-19 restrictions as a precaution while it learns more about the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Key points for everyone in New Zealand:

  • People need to get booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine four months after having their second dose, rather than six months, as initially suggested. The new four-month gap will become operative from January 3. 
    • Over 82% of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February.
  • Doses of the Pfizer vaccine will start being given to 5-11-year-olds from January 17.
  • In the event of an Omicron outbreak, affected areas will move to the RED setting of the traffic light system.  
    • It is not the Government's intention to move to lockdowns "unless absolutely necessary in the event of a widespread outbreak where our health system comes under considerable strain - and even then the strong preference is for the lockdown to be highly targeted".

Key points for travellers:

  • Overseas arrivals need to keep booking spots in Managed Isolation until at least the end of February. 
    • New Zealanders travelling from Australia were going to be allowed to self-isolate at home from January 17, meanwhile New Zealanders travelling from other parts of the world were due to be able to do the same from February 14. Now, New Zealanders from any part of the world will only be able to side-step MIQ from the end of February. The Government hasn’t provided further dates or details around the change of plan.
  • Overseas travellers need to return a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of departure, rather than 72 hours - as was previously the rule.
  • Overseas travellers need to do 10 days in MIQ, rather than seven.  
  • Everyone on an international flight with a positive case will be treated as a close contact.
  • All countries will be removed from the Very High Risk country list.

Key points for those who work in sectors where vaccines are mandated:

  • Eligible border and health workers will be required to get a booster shot by the end of January, or no more than six months after their second dose.
  • Others under the vaccine mandate need to get a booster shot by March 1.

Here are a couple of government press releases, containing context, explanations and some more detail:

Cabinet has agreed a suite of precautionary measures to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. 

“All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet and public health advice says that soon, every case that comes into MIQ will be Omicron,” Chris Hipkins said.

“But experts still don’t know how severe it is. So while it’s sweeping the globe at a bewildering speed and appears to be the dominant variant, how sick it makes people and the impact it has on health systems is not yet fully understood.

“With over 70 countries around the world reporting Omicron cases and its high  transmissibility, our plan is to get as prepared as we can by speeding up boosters and strengthening our border to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible.

“We start our response to Omicron with a number of advantages on our side. We have over 90 per cent and rising of the population fully vaccinated, we still have our border protections and MIQ in place, school has finished for the year and we are heading into summer when we are outdoors more.

“But we need to do more. Parts of the world are going back into lockdown and experiencing major disruption, and with these extra steps we aim to keep Omicron at bay to ensure New Zealanders get the break they deserve and businesses can remain open.


“The first step in our plan is accelerating the booster rollout, following advice from the Director-General.

“The advice from the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group is that shortening the period between the second and booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine is an appropriate and pragmatic step and is in line with what other countries are doing. 

“Data is emerging that a booster dose with Pfizer provides better protection than two-dose course against the Omicron variant.

“While two doses is likely to hold a good degree of protection against severe disease from Omicron, a third dose is likely to offer great protection against transmission of COVID-19 and reducing the chance of more serious infections.

“The shorter timeframe will start in January and we’ll continue to follow health advice if it recommends the gap in doses can and should reduce further.

“Over 82 per cent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February 2022.   

“We know that the most likely place for Omicron to enter the community is at the border, so we want all border and eligible health workers to have the extra protection the booster vaccine provides to protect them and their families.

The border continues to be our first line of defence.

“More than half of border workers eligible for a booster at 6 months have already had it – which is a great response – but we need to get the numbers up quickly.

“Cabinet has therefore agreed in principle that where workers are required to be vaccinated, that this mandate will also extend to boosters.

“Initially this will be for those workers most likely to come into contact with Omicron -- border and health workers -- who will be required to have their booster by the end of January, or not later six months after their second dose for those who were only recently vaccinated, and then to all others who are under a vaccination mandate by the 1st of March. 

Strengthening MIQ

“We are fortunate we still have MIQ in place. Without it, Omicron would already be in the community and Christmas plans would be under threat.

“To further strengthen the border, we’re shortening the pre-departure test requirement from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel in order to assist in picking up more people with the virus before they get on a plane.

“And we’ve sought advice on implementing a requirement for all non-New Zealand citizens entering to New Zealand to have had a booster dose before flying.

“We are also making a temporary change to MIQ that increases the length of stay from 7 to 10 days. Currently returnees do their final 3 days of isolation at home. Bringing those final three days back into MIQ reduces the risk of the virus entering the community.

Changes to re-opening plan

“To slow the rapid spread we have seen overseas, we are pushing out the start of non-MIQ travel until the end of February 2022. 

“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans.

“COVID-19 keeps throwing new curve balls and we have to respond in a way that continues to protect lives and livelihoods without putting in place restrictions and lockdowns unless absolutely necessary.  

“Waiting till the end of February will increase New Zealand’s overall protection and slow Omicron’s eventual spread.

Use of traffic light system to manage outbreaks

“With these changes, we’re buying New Zealand as much time as we can, as scientists here and overseas race to get a clearer picture of Omicron.

“In moving to the traffic light system, we signalled that we would be adjusting to more of a reactive stance when it came to protective measures and would apply them when case numbers grew and the health system came under pressure. 

“Omicron has changed that. When it does arrive, we expect that it will spread fast, and that’s what we’re seeing in other places. To slow that spread, we may use the red traffic light settings earlier on. That will give us the best chance to avoid returning to more restrictive alert level settings.

“It is not our intention to move to lockdowns unless absolutely necessary in the event of a widespread outbreak where our health system comes under considerable strain – and even then the strong preference is for the lockdown to be highly targeted.

Chris Hipkins said faced with alternative courses of action, and looking at overseas jurisdictions, Cabinet is strongly of the view that this plan is the best approach for New Zealand.

“By the end of February when we revisit the phased border re-opening, around 3 million more Kiwis will be eligible for the booster shots and the rollout to 5-11 year-olds will be well underway.” Chris Hipkins said.

Vaccines for children

Parents and caregivers will have the opportunity to protect their children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 with the child version of the Pfizer vaccine, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today.

“A key focus of the Government is to keep everyone in New Zealand safe from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chris Hipkins said.

“That’s why Cabinet has agreed with the advice from the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, off the back of Medsafe approval that confirms both the safety and efficacy of the paediatric vaccine, to use of the vaccine to protect 5 to 11-years-olds.

“This will happen from 17 January. There are 476,000 children between ages 5-11 who will become eligible to get their first dose from this date, and their second dose at least eight weeks later. 

“As we have seen to date, the virus can be unpredictable. While COVID-19 generally has milder effects in children, with symptoms similar to a cold, some children become severely ill and require hospitalisation.

“In the most recent outbreak, 24% of cases have been aged 11 or under.

“Like we have seen with adults, if your child is infected with COVID-19 they may transmit the virus to other people. Immunising 5 to 11-year-olds helps protect whānau members whose health makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.”

The Ministry of Health is working with iwi, DHBs, hauora providers, and community organisations to roll out the Pfizer vaccine to children in ways that suit whānau and communities.

While there are no plans for a school-based immunisation programme, schools are being considered as community vaccination sites. This will add capacity to the vaccination network and make it even easier for families to get vaccinated.

“The government is strongly encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, but I want to be clear that this is a choice for parents. The Government has no intention of making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for anyone in this age group,” Chris Hipkins said.

“I encourage parents to make an informed choice and have their children vaccinated to protect them and those they love.


  • Children need two doses of the vaccine to be fully protected. It is recommended that these are given at least 8 weeks apart, however the interval can be safely shortened to a minimum of 21 days if needed, for example if your child is starting significant immunosuppression treatment.
  • The vaccine is free. A parent, caregiver or legal guardian will need to accompany your child to their appointment(s) as the responsible adult and provide consent for them to be vaccinated.
  • The vaccine has been through clinical trials in children of the same age group. In general, the side effects that were reported were mild, didn’t last long, and were similar to side effects from other routine vaccines.
  • Myocarditis and pericarditis are very rare but serious side effects of the Pfizer vaccine. In the clinical trial no cases were seen in children aged 5 to 11 however it is important to be aware of the symptoms for all ages who are vaccinated. The Covid-19 Vaccination Technical Advisory Group (CV-TAG) and Medsafe will continue to monitor safety data, including for these rare side effects, from the rollout of programmes to 5 to 11 year old children in other countries.
  • Parents or caregivers can go to a walk-in clinic with their tamariki or use to get immunised with their usual health provider, hauora, or general practice (make sure you select the appropriate age range).
  • If you want to book for more than one child or you’re unable to book online, you can call the COVID Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).
  • The disability team is available Monday to Friday, from 8am to 8pm. To book an immunisation appointment for your tamariki. Contact: call: 0800282926, free text: 8988, email:

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.