Health authorities and the Government will be hoping for a boost in interest in boosters now that the waiting time for getting third doses has been shortened.
From yesterday, people were able to get an extra Covid-19 vaccine shot four months after their second one, rather than the initial six-month time frame.
That means anyone who had their second jab in early September or before can get a booster at walk-in sites. Those who prefer to book a time will have to wait until January 17 to get appointment slots online.
People who have already qualified because of early vaccinations last year, such as frontline healthcare and border workers, have been steadily getting boosted. On Tuesday 5328 booster doses were given. That compares to 4494 on Monday and 2220 on Sunday.
A vaccination target of 95 per cent of the eligible population with two doses is within reach. And the existing vaccines still provide good protection against hospitalisation and death. Several studies show that T-cells still work against severe outcomes even if Omicron can evade some antibody defences.
However, what's also known from research overseas is that a booster on top keeps vaccine immunity at a high level against Omicron, and provides a better shield against basic infection than two doses. It also improves waning immunity against Delta.
For all the assessments that Omicron is more transmissible but less threatening than Delta, the sheer volume of cases being seen is its own challenge. The US set a global record of more than a million cases in one day on Tuesday and it's putting pressure on healthcare.
A burst of Omicron cases here would probably mostly cause mild to moderate infections but a lot of them, resulting in staff shortages with people being too sick to work or having to isolate. In the UK there are particular concerns about staffing levels in hospitals and schools.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
In Australia it is causing supply chain problems as essential workers are affected. In several countries, including Australia, there is strain on testing systems and insufficient supplies of rapid tests.
After the Government here decided to cut the waiting time for boosters in December amid a sense of urgency over Omicron, the delay to the January 5 start and the holiday break sapped momentum - even with the high-profile Omicron scare involving a visiting DJ from the UK.
As of yesterday, 339,172 people had got booster doses, a fraction of the number who will need to get them in the next few months.
There have been 4 million first doses administered and 3.9 million second doses. To get to that level for third doses, about a further 3.5 million jabs are needed. In two full months, that would be 437,500 a week or 62,500 a day.
After many months of stressing the goal of two shots, there's a messaging difficulty in urging people to line up again. Those who are especially motivated will do so but many won't bother - especially if Omicron is mostly kept at bay at the border.
Realistically, unless take-up of booster shots rapidly increases, New Zealand will likely still be well behind where it needs to be on triple doses by the end of February. Specific vulnerable groups will have to be encouraged to get third jabs as soon as possible.
That's a long time for the country to ride its luck avoiding a problematic new variant while the old one hangs around.