Government officials say they are still currently committed to an “eradication” strategy to see the end of Covid in New Zealand.
But the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that the country was about to transition away from the eradication strategy reliant on lockdowns towards a herd immunity strategy made possible by widespread vaccinations.
And she went further, saying that eventually, we would live with Covid like we now live with the flu.
Her comments came in the wake of an announcement that the Government has decided to roll out the Pfizer vaccine for the whole population.
That this marked a step change was evident in the Beehive Theatrette for her post Cabinet press conference.
The “unite Against Covid” which has been there for almost a year had been replaced with a new one; “Together protecting Aotearoa” with an illustration of a vaccine vial on it.
Jacinda Ardern announced that the Government had secured an additional 8.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“The Government has signed an advance purchase agreement for 8.5 million additional doses, enough to vaccinate 4.25 million people. The vaccines are expected to arrive in New Zealand during the second half of the year,” she said.
“This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
The decision comes after the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Megan Woods, last November announced that the Government had confirmed an in-principle agreement to purchase up to 5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 5 million people – from Janssen Pharmaceutica, subject to the vaccine successfully completing clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand.
Covid response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed yesterday that the Janssen vaccine was very close to New Zealand regulatory approval.
“It is an initial agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica, and we expect a formal advance purchase agreement to be finalised in coming weeks,” Woods said on November 18.
“The agreement with Janssen would see the first doses – up to 2 million – delivered from the third quarter of 2021.
“We have the option to purchase up to 3 million additional doses, which would be delivered throughout 2022.
“A key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it’s likely to be a single-dose vaccine and is compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels, so it may potentially be more efficient to administer.”
It is not known whether the Government went ahead and signed the formal advance purchase agreement.
Pfizer’s contact with the US Government prices its vaccine at $US20 a dose; it requires two doses per person.
The Janssen vaccine, on the other hand, according to the Biospace website, would cost only $US10 for a single jab. It does not require a second.
The Janssen vaccine can also be stored and handled at ordinary temperatures, but tests have shown it has only 65 per cent efficacy against Pfizer’s 95 per cent efficacy.
Two weeks ago, Israel’s Health Ministry announced the results of a study in the country that showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 98.9% effective at preventing Covid deaths. In the study, it was 99.2% effective in preventing serious disease, decreased morbidity by 95.8% and decreased the likelihood of hospitalisation by 98.9%.
The Government’s decision to go with Pfizer is further evidence that it is now focussing on getting Newe Zealand back to normal as fast as possible.
And the clear implication of that is that the Government will no longer need to impose lockdowns.
Asked yesterday if her goal was to transition from the current eradication strategy to a herd immunity strategy, she simply replied, ”yes.”
“Ultimately, the end goal absolutely is to move to a place where the vaccine is really doing the heavy lifting for us in the past; we have used restrictions because we don’t have that personal protection that we want everyone to have from Covid,” she said.
“As we see more of the population vaccinated, then we will step into the vaccine doing that job for us rather than restrictions.”
Ardern defined what she meant by herd immunity.
“The whole idea of having enough members of your community vaccinated is that means that you no longer become a path for Covid to reach someone who’s vulnerable,” she said.
“And that’s the whole idea of herd immunity.”
She said that having the vaccine was the way that people could protect others.
“The more of us that are vaccinated, that means that there isn’t a path for Covid anymore, and eventually that’s when we will see it globally peter out.”
But that won’t mean an end to the need for vaccines.
“We need to think about this program like the flu,” she said.
“It will be something we’ll be doing each year.”
Ardern said that the major part of the vaccination programme would begin in the second half of the year but that she would lay out the schedule by Wednesday.