Leading epidemiologists say everyone in New Zealand should plan to find Covid-19 before Christmas, and they better be prepared.
But while Delta is here to stay, an expert says that we must not stop fighting because the consequences would be disastrous.
University of Otago professor Michael Baker said Morning report: “Basically, I think … all New Zealanders should plan to find this virus in the next few months and act accordingly, and the most important thing, of course, is to get vaccinated.”
University of Canterbury Covid-19 modeling professor Michael Plank also said Morning report: “It looks like Delta is here and it’s here to stay, but it’s really important that we don’t just wave the white flag and let it break, because that would be disastrous, of course.
“Disastrous for the healthcare system. Disastrous for the Maori and Pasifika, who have lower vaccination rates, you already know our essential workers in the firing line. And of course our 12-year-olds are unprotected, so which would be disastrous on several fronts.
“So we really have to do everything we can to control the spread of the virus and use all the tools that we have in the box to keep community transmission rates as low as possible while we vaccinate.”
What worried Plank the most was whether Aotearoa ended up in a situation with immense pressure on health systems and a struggle to cope with the impact.
“If you have a health care system that is having problems, it means that people with other health care needs cannot get treatment.
“So yeah, that’s the situation that worries me the most, and I think we have to do everything we can to try to avoid it.”
Vaccination remains the key
Baker said the now shortened interval between Pfizer doses was correct.
Yesterday, the government recommended that people should have three weeks between doses instead of the six weeks recommended previously.
“Basically I think … all New Zealanders should plan to find this virus in the next few months and act accordingly, and the most important thing of course is to get vaccinated,” Baker said.
“We know that means having two doses plus another two weeks after that to be fully protected.
“For example, if you have your first dose next week, you will get your second dose three weeks later in early November and be fully protected in mid-November, so I think that’s really what people should plan to do, and The problem is, if you have a six-week gap between your two doses, that really pushes that protection into December, and some people might miss out at that stage.
“I’d say it’s a very good reason to go back to the three-week gap.”
The gap would not make the vaccine less effective.
“Marginally less antibodies are generated if it were a three week interval, but remember, this is still the manufacturer’s recommended interval.
“This is what all the trials were done with, so after your first dose they found you had about 50 percent protection against symptomatic infection.
“After his second dose, it went up to 90 percent in two days and a week after that 95 percent protection. So it’s extremely high following the manufacturer’s standard approach.”
Plank said there is no “magic number” for vaccines.
“The more people we get double vaccinated and as long as we can prevent the number of cases from getting too high, the more people can progressively loosen the restrictions,” he said.
“So we’re still under alert level 3 restrictions in Auckland at the moment. Once we hit maybe 70 percent double shots, we could loosen them up and then progressively loosen them as we get to those higher coverage rates. .
“But we really have to aim for very high vaccination rates.”
Plank said the modeling had not been analyzed taking into account the influence of antiviral drugs.
“But we know that these antiviral drugs are by far a second better relative to the vaccine. It is much better to be vaccinated and protected rather than risk contracting the virus, even if you have antiviral treatment available.”
Plank said the growing number of unrelated cases showed there was “significant undetected community transmission.”
“If you can’t find the cases, it obviously makes it much, much more difficult to control, so yeah … we have to keep an eye on those mystery cases because we need our contact tracing system to keep working to protect us from those number of cases and spiraling hospitalizations “.
Testing was crucial and we needed to “improve our game on the testing front,” Plank said.
“We also need to start looking at other options, such as more saliva tests and rapid antigen tests in some circumstances, to complement the PCR system and to give us more options and more layers of protection on the testing front.”