Covid still….

Tracey Sullivan Pharmacy Features Writer

It appears that New Zealand is experiencing a new wave (the fifth to be exact but who’s counting…) of Covid infections. Health authorities know this because there has been an increase in hospitalisations for people ill with Covid, and there is a corresponding increase in the amount of virus being detected in our wastewater. As we head into the summer holidays with its Christmas parties, music festivals and other social gatherings, now is a good time to stock up on supplies in case you get sick – and think about getting a booster vaccine.


Why are we seeing a fifth wave?
It was always expected that there would be peaks and troughs of Covid infections, and we are currently experiencing one of those peaks. This seems to be due to a number of reasons:

  • people’s immunity to the virus is getting less. Most people had ‘hybrid immunity’ which comes from a combination of vaccination and infection. Hybrid immunity gives longer protection against Covid than the vaccine alone.
  • there is an increase in new virus variants
  • the mandatory self-isolation rules were removed in August
  • the uptake of booster vaccinations is low
  • work subsidies have gone, making it more likely that people are carrying on when unwell and going back to work with Covid.


Only about 55% of people over the age of 50 have had a second booster. This number is even lower amongst 50- to 64-year-olds with only 38% having had a second booster.


Is there a new vaccine for Covid?

While the primary vaccination course against Covid still uses the original Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine (or Novavax), there is a new, bivalent vaccine that is now used for booster doses. It has been available in New Zealand since April 2023 and was updated to target Omicron. Bivalent means there are two antigens in the vaccine. The new booster produces an immune response against two strains of Covid virus – the original Wuhan strain of the virus and also against the Omicron strain. Scientific evidence has shown that this bivalent vaccine is more effective against Omicron subvariants than the original vaccine. The bivalent vaccine is likely to give you protection from Covid reinfection for four to six months.


Should I get a booster?

A booster dose of bivalent Covid-19 vaccine has shown to decrease the hospitalisation rates for people over 65 years of age, for at least four months.

A booster dose will protect you against Covid reinfection for four to six months, however the long-term protection against getting severe disease if you are infected lasts longer than this, as least beyond six months, due to developing immune memory. In other words, the booster vaccine protects you against getting infected with Covid and developing a severe infection for around 4 to 6 months, then after that time period, you may get re-infected but the booster gives you long-term protection against developing severe disease.


Who is eligible for a booster?

Not everyone is eligible for more than one booster. You can get a booster if:

  • you are aged 30 or over
  • you are pregnant and aged 16 or over
  • aged 12 to 29 and at higher risk of getting severely unwell with Covid.


The old Covid rules still make sense…

  • Even though the self-isolation requirements are no longer in place – stay home if sick or feeling unwell.
  • Wear a mask if visiting a health-care facility or rest-home.
  • Wear a mask when indoors in a crowded space or in a poorly ventilated area.
  • Test yourself – RATs are free until the end of February 2024.


We can’t forget that Covid has killed nearly 3,500 Kiwis so far and still has the potential to cause great harm to those in our community that are more vulnerable to disease. If it has been more than six months since your last booster or Covid infection it may be time to think about getting another booster.

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