Does having a doctor in the House and in charge of New Zealand's pandemic policy make a difference?
One of new Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall's first decisions is a very sensible change.
Eligibility criteria for a second vaccine booster have been widened to include more people.
That's a good move: Any chance to improve immunity levels of people more at risk of needing serious treatment should be taken - with the flu and cold weather around, and the country's Covid numbers still hovering at a risky level. Health experts say that the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron, which is pushing up confirmed case numbers overseas, is the worst so far for immune escape and transmissibility.
Hospitals have been struggling with demand and GPs are under strain. Separately, children will be able to get the flu vaccine for free from tomorrow in an attempt to reduce hospital admissions.
Previously the second booster was to be for anyone aged over 65, Māori and Pasifika aged over 50, and immunocompromised people. Now it can also be given to anyone aged over 50, and workers in the health, aged-care and disability sectors over the age of 30 - six months after their last dose.
"For those not at risk of severe illness from Covid-19, a two-dose primary course and one booster continues to provide very good protection," Verrall said. "So, for those who haven't had a first booster, please act now."
Making the second booster available to people in daily close contact with the elderly and vulnerable makes sense. And there's very little difference between the numbers of people hospitalised and in ICU aged in their 50s (1607 and 51 on Tuesday) and 60s (1554 and 43).
The seven-day average of deaths by and with Covid has been 12 or 13 in recent days. Over a year that would amount to about 600 - that's a lot higher than last year's death toll on the country's roads of 319. Most of New Zealand's 1437 pandemic deaths have occurred this year - essentially that's at least four annual road tolls in six months.
There are still key issues with boosters such as whether Omicron-specific shots will soon be approved overseas; if they were developed for BA.1 they would still be effective enough against BA.5; and how to overcome the unpopularity of boosters amid pandemic fatigue. Only 52 per cent of New Zealand's total population has had a first booster.
US scientist Dr Eric Topol says the bigger picture is that a new generation of variant-proof vaccines needs to be developed. Also required are nasal vaccines to reduce transmission. "These goals are paramount, along with more and better antiviral drugs, but they are not getting adequate traction or priority," he said.
For now, the United States has health data which shows better protection against dying from Covid for people aged 50-plus who have had two primary and two boosters, compared to those with fewer doses.
At a meeting yesterday, the US Food and Drug Administration debated whether an updated vaccine should target the Omicron virus family. But it seems unlikely a booster targeting BA.4 and BA.5 would be ready before the end of the year.
Despite questions over the way forward, the vaccines have proven their worth. A Lancet study last week estimated they prevented nearly 20 million deaths globally last year.
A bit of extra effort here to try and reduce the coronavirus spread is welcome.