25,000 booster doses were dished out on Waitangi Day, bringing boosted numbers up to above half of the eligible population
Numbers of daily community cases are edging towards 200, with most cases of the Omicron variant of the virus being picked up in the upper North Island.
The Ministry of Health reported 188 new community cases on Monday, after an unusual Waitangi Day weekend with empty Treaty grounds and pre-recorded addresses from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.
But while this weekend has in the past been a time for protest and reframing what it means to be tangata Tiriti, Omicron pulled the plug on the bigger hikoi and hui and put the focus of the media cycle on booster numbers and how many ICU beds are left available across the country.
As of Monday, there was one case in ICU in Rotorua, while 14 cases are in hospital.
Only the Northern region wards have the vaccination status of hospitalised cases reported – and among the seven cases in this area, one person was not vaccinated, six were fully vaccinated and one had an unknown status.
While people looking to prove an inefficacy may cling onto these proportions as proof of the vaccine not helping to keep people out of hospital, the high vaccination rates of the eligible population make per capita differences in hospitalisation between the vaccinated and unvaccinated difficult to determine.
However, with 94 percent of the eligible population having received two doses of the vaccine, if you pick a random person out of a crowd, you are likely to have picked somebody vaccinated.
So most of those hospitalised were fully vaccinated, but this is a correlation about as meaningful as the fact that most left-handed people in New Zealand are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, just over half of the population have received a booster – a number set to increase at an accelerated pace in the next few weeks as the 18 to 45 cohort pass the suggested four months.
By the end of this month, more than 82 percent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster.
The Government’s message has shifted from vaccinate to get boosted, claiming that New Zealand’s best line of defence comes via needle in arm – and as daily case numbers continue to climb while hospitalised cases remain low, it seems to be working.
The reduced severity of Omicron compared to Delta may account for this; World Health Organisation officials have stated that while it can be considered less severe than Delta, it still should not be categorised as ‘mild’.
But although high vaccination rates have been lauded by the Government, over the last year there have been specific parts of the country with higher vulnerability due to fewer people getting the jab – namely, Northland and Tairāwhiti.
Over the weekend, 23 cases were reported in Northland, mainly in Whangārei and Kerikeri. It’s a region that lagged in terms of vaccination rates through 2021, raising concerns about the virus hitting areas like the Far North particularly hard.
However, as of Monday, 87 percent of those aged 12 and over had received at least two doses of the vaccine in Northland – a big difference in terms of the area’s risk profile compared to the beginning of August’s Delta outbreak.
Nevertheless, the region remains the least vaccinated in the country, and with a high Māori population – a group who have had lower rates of vaccination as well – Northland is still one of New Zealand’s most vulnerable spots, even to a virus with less severe symptoms.
Like Northlander vaccination, Māori vaccination continues to slowly increase, with the Ministry of Health reporting last Friday that Māori had reached the 90 percent first dose milestone.
“This is a significant accomplishment that should be celebrated, and speaks to the commitment Māori have to whānau and wider communities”, said Patricia Joseph, equity group manager at the Ministry of Health’s Immunisation Programme.
“With Omicron now in our communities, the mahi continues, and we don’t stop at 90 percent first doses. We want as many Māori as possible to get double dosed and boosted to ensure those in all our communities have the best protection possible.”
As of Monday, 86 percent of Māori (489,188 people) had received at least two doses of the vaccine.