As Northland is gearing up for an impending Omicron outbreak, health officials keep encouraging people to get their booster shots.
But because Northland has a range of vaccine providers, things can get confusing quickly.
The Northern Advocate compiled information to help navigate through the range of vaccination options.
What is the booster?
The immunisation against Covid-19 includes two primary doses of the Pfizer vaccine which is often referred to as "fully vaccinated".
As new variants of the coronavirus, such as Omicron, emerge the number of breakthrough infections for fully vaccinated people is increasing.
To reduce the chance of catching Omicron or other infectious variants, and/or reducing the chance of severe illness and hospitalisation, the Ministry of Health is recommending a third vaccine dose or booster shot.
In December 2021, Pfizer has said that preliminary studies have shown higher protection against Covid-19 after receiving a booster shot.
Their lab tests showed that a booster increased by 25-fold people's levels of virus-fighting antibodies.
The company is currently working to improve their vaccine to account for new variants with the first results expected in March.
When can I get the booster?
Four months after receiving the second dose of Pfizer, people can book in for their booster shot.
The time gap can be longer, but the Ministry of Health recommends booking an appointment as soon as people hit the four-month mark.
The BookMyVaccine system doesn't allow a shorter time frame, so if people turn up for their booster jab a day early, they will be turned away.
"The Ministry of Health guidelines for the timing of a booster vaccination is four months after the second primary dose," Dr Bart Willems, medical officer of health for Ngā Tai Ora Public Health Northland, said.
"We are exact about the timing and do not offer vaccination to anyone less than four months after their second dose."
The ministry sends out email notifications once people become eligible.
Should I wait to get my booster?
First community cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in Auckland and Motueka.
Several Air New Zealand aircrew associated with those cases are also Covid-symptomatic.
This leads epidemiologists to believe, that New Zealand is facing an outbreak that is expected to affect more people than previous outbreaks.
To ensure that people are as protected as they possibly can be, the ministry recommends getting the booster shot as soon as people become eligible.
Northland is a vulnerable region because there is a higher than average percentage of people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions which makes them more prone to infection.
The region's intensive care capacity is limited to eight beds.
Boosters reduce the risk of hospitalisation and take pressure off Northland's health system.
What kind of booster can I get?
Most Northlanders would have had two doses of Pfizer for their primary immunisation and will also get Pfizer for their booster shot.
However, there is now an alternative to the American/German vaccine; the British vaccine AstraZeneca is now available.
"AstraZeneca is available for people aged 18 and older who cannot have the Pfizer vaccine or people who want to have a different Covid-19 vaccine," Willems explained.
Bookings must be made for AstraZeneca via BookMyVaccine.
Written consent is required for all AstraZeneca doses, and people need to get a prescription from their doctor if they have had a Pfizer vaccine before.
The reason for this is that a mixed schedule is an off-label usage. While there are not expected to be any safety concerns, according to the Immunisation Advisory Centre, it does not yet have Medsafe approval.
AstraZeneca is not approved for people under 18 or recommended for pregnant women.
Kensington Pharmacy, as well as the Northland District Health Board vaccination clinics in Whangārei, Kerikeri, Dargaville and Kaitaia offer AstraZeneca on selected days.
More information is available on northlanddhb.org.nz/home/covid-19/getting-vaccinated/northland-vaccination-clinics/astrazeneca-vaccination-clinics/.
What do I need to know about booking an appointment?
Several health care providers including the Northland DHB, Māori health providers, general practices and pharmacies offer the vaccine.
Many of these are connected to the BookMyVaccine portal and you can directly book an appointment at your local pharmacist through that website.
BookMyVaccine will ask you for the date you received your second dose. If you're not sure what day you've received that shot, you can visit mycovidrecord.health.nz. The ministry might have also sent you an email notification.
If that gets too complicated, people need assistance because of language barriers or cannot access their records, they can call the Covid Vaccination Healthline team from 8am–8pm, seven days a week on 0800 28 29 26. The Healthline also answer questions about the vaccine.
You can also call GPs, Māori health providers and pharmacies directly to book.
While some places offer walk-in options, priority will be given to people who booked an appointment.
Far North health provider Whakawhiti Ora Pai for example have to pick up their vaccines from Kaitaia before running their vaccination clinics in Pukenui, Te Hapua and Te Kao so they need to know how many people to expect.
You might be asked for your NHI (National Health Index) number when you book your appointment, but if you don't have it available, you can still book.
No formal identification is needed at the appointment.
To find a vaccine provider near you, visit healthpoint.co.nz/covid-19-vaccination/northland/.
What about children?
The booster is available only for people aged 18 and older in New Zealand.
Children aged 12-17 can get two full doses of the Pfizer vaccine and children aged 5-11 are eligible for two shots of a paediatric vaccine.
Can pregnant women get the booster?
Pregnant women can get a booster.
To ensure the right timing for the booster shot, contact your midwife or obstetrician.
Breastfeeding women can also get their booster. In both cases, some immunity can be transferred to the baby.
Covid-19 update in Northland
The Northland DHB recorded four new cases in Kaitaia yesterday. Two are household members of an existing case, one is a close contact of the Whangārei case and lives in Kaitaia, and one is a contact of known Kaitaia case.
Results for genome sequencing of an unlinked case in Kaitaia has not come back yet.
There were no new locations of interest recorded.
Across the region, 35,866 boosters and a further 1221 paediatric vaccine doses have been administered.