New Zealand has cracked the 90 per cent full vaccination milestone, officials have confirmed.
Just over a week out from Christmas Day, celebrations have started early as the Ministry of Health announced the huge milestone in the country's continued fight against Covid-19.
"We've now reached 90 per cent fully vaccinated across the country," Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said this morning.
"By 11.59pm last night, 3,789,662 of the 4,209,057 eligible New Zealanders aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated, with 3,969,267 (or 94%) partially vaccinated."
It comes 122 days after the country was plunged into a strict level 4 lockdown after news that a Devonport man had tested positive for the Delta strain of the virus - the first time it had been detected in the community.
Yesterday, Counties Manukau DHB hit 90 per cent, meaning all three of Auckland's DHBs have hit the milestone.
Shortly after the current outbreak started, the NZ Herald launched The 90% Project, calling on Kiwis to get vaccinated by Christmas.
'Thank you', New Zealand - Dr Ashley Bloomfield
On reaching the historic landmark, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield described it as "the best Christmas present ever".
"Reaching 90 per cent fully vaccinated of our eligible population is the best Christmas present ever.
"This is a present that New Zealanders have given to each other. It allows us to protect ourselves, our whānau and those who are more vulnerable."
Despite the milestone, Bloomfield said the work to get as many of the country's population fully vaccinated against the virus would continue - particularly for Māori.
"The rates of 86 per cent first dose and 76 per cent fully vaccinated are very important milestones - and kia ora to all those who have got vaccinated and I continue to encourage those who haven't to do so.
"Today all New Zealanders can join me in looking back with pride on what we have collectively achieved. Thank you."
University of Otago Professor Michael Baker said it was an outstanding effort and a moment to celebrate.
"If you'd asked people early on in the pandemic, people thought 90 per cent was very aspirational."
The first 50 per cent was easy to achieve, but from 80 per cent onwards every percentage point was hard work.
"Places like Singapore and Portugal are approaching 98, 99 per cent vaccination for the adult population, so we know we have a way to go still."
In order to protect everyone, Māori vaccination rates need to go up
Baker believes the country owes a debt of gratitude to Aucklanders who have endured four months of lockdown so the rest of the country could get vaccination rates up.
Looking ahead, it was critical for the country to deal with inequalities and immunity gaps that remain, for Māori, people with substance abuse problem, as well as children, he said.
"We should all take a pat on the back - and public servants and the army of people on the frontline giving the vaccines also should take a bow for their phenomenal efforts over many months."
Pacific health leader Dr Collin Tukuitonga called it a "fantastic achievement" that means good protection against the virus for the whole country.
But his concern is when and whether Māori can reach the 90 per cent milestone.
"In order to protect everyone, it's important to get the Māori rate up."
The Pasifika's eligible population has reached the 90 per cent full vaccination coverage across all Auckland DHB regions, which was good, he said.
The lesson learned during the rollout was that we were late in working with Māori leaders and communities, Tukuitonga said.
"If we were to do this again, we really need to engage and empower Māori leaders and providers to lead on the vaccinations within their communities.
The next task is to ensure high coverage with booster shots, he said.
Early evidence from South Africa suggests the third dose is crucial to protection from the Omicron variant.
Political leaders also joined the chorus of thanks and praises - albeit with a pinch of critique.
National leader Christopher Luxon said: "It's great news. A big thanks to everyone who has gone and got vaccinated. Now let's get that rate even higher and get people getting boosted too."
ACT leader David Seymour, however, said the Government had run a "disastrous" vaccination rollout at a huge cost to New Zealanders.
"We are months behind the rest of the world and have paid an enormous cost," he said.
"The Government failed in the rollout, failed in the procurement, failed in every aspect. The high uptake belongs to New Zealanders as an achievement, not the Government."
Seymour also called on the public not to fall for what he described as the "Stockholm syndrome" of being grateful to officials every time there was milestone.
GPs and pharmacies should have been at the centre of the rollout from the beginning, he said, and marae and iwi should have been called on from the start.
Seymour said Government officials need to get any new Pfizer vaccines early.
"If there is a new booster for Omicron, for example, then we need to be at the front of the queue to order it."