Three new cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been reported in New Zealand’s managed isolation system, with none of them connected to yesterday’s first case.
The first case was recorded in a Christchurch MIQ facility yesterday.
This evening the Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement that whole genome sequencing has detected three further Omicron cases in recent international arrivals.
“The cases arrived in Auckland from Dubai on December 11 and were transported to a Rotorua MIQ on a bus chartered for international arrivals.”
The Ministry said one case travelled to Dubai from London, the second case travelled to Dubai from Spain and the third travelled to Dubai from Nigeria. All three then boarded the same flight to Auckland.
The cases are now isolating at the Jet Park Quarantine facility in Auckland.
While it’s not inevitable Omicron will leak into the community, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says he will be speaking to ministers today about speeding up the vaccine booster rollout.
New Zealand’s first case of Omicron was reported yesterday after it was found a person who tested positive for Covid-19 in a Christchurch managed isolation facility had the variant.
The person arrived in New Zealand on a flight from Germany via Dubai that landed in Auckland before they transferred to Christchurch on a chartered domestic flight.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told Morning Report the person was vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is doing well.
“Pfizer does afford protection against this variant which is really good however it does seem that a third dose, that booster dose, is really important to get that level of protection up to about 80 – I think it’s 85 percent protection against even symptomatic disease, and of course an even higher level of protection from hospitalisation or death.”
Currently a booster dose was offered six months after someone had received their second dose of the vaccine.
Some health experts were calling for the booster to be available more quickly – something Bloomfield would be speaking to ministers about today.
“We want to be going into winter next year with the highest possible level of population immunity and so far in rolling out our booster programme we’ve seen at that six month interval, about half of people are booking in and having it at six months and it may well be we need a shorter interval to make sure people do get it on time.”
Ninety percent of eligible New Zealanders were now fully vaccinated.
Pfizer forecasts that the Covid-19 pandemic will not be behind us until 2024 and says a lower-dose version of its vaccine for 2-4 year olds generated a weaker immune response than expected, potentially delaying authorisation.
The company said it is testing a three-dose course of the vaccine in all age groups under 16, including 2-4 year olds.
It had previously expected data from that age group this year, but said it did not expect the delay would meaningfully change plans to file for emergency use authorisation in the second quarter of 2022.
“The data are illustrating the impact of a booster and that our vaccine works best as a primary regimen of three doses,” Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said on a conference call.
Pfizer developed the vaccine with Germany’s BioNTech SE. The companies has been developing a version of their vaccine tailored to combat the quick-spreading Omicron variant, although they have not decided whether it will be needed.
They expect to start a clinical trial for the updated vaccine in January, Pfizer executives said.
The company said it currently expects the vaccine to generate revenue of $31 billion next year. Variant-specific shots, if needed, could boost sales in 2022.
Pfizer and BioNTech tested a 3 microgram dose of its vaccine in 2-5 year olds after using a 10 microgram dose in 5-11 year olds and 30 microgram doses in everyone over 12.
In children aged 6 to 24 months, the low-dose version of the vaccine generated an immune response consistent with that of older vaccine recipients, the company said.
If the three-dose study is successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to submit data to regulators to support an Emergency Use Authorization for children six months to under five years of age in the first half of 2022.