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Health ministry recommends Covid boosters for vulnerable populations

Monday 19 February 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Health, National


Health ministry recommends Covid boosters for vulnerable populations
A woman gets vaccinated against Covid-19 in the Cook Islands. Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health is advising additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine for further protection of vulnerable and high-risk populations. RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF/ 24021816

Following new cases of Covid-19 in the Cook Islands, Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health is advising additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine for further protection of vulnerable and high-risk populations.

The ministry has been advising the public that those who “would like” to get the booster can do so, since February 2 and is available from 9am-1pm at the Public Health office in Tupapa.

Secretary of Health Bob Williams said Te Marae Ora has the highest vaccination rates for first and second doses, and the offer of additional boosters has been ongoing since Covid-19 became normalised.

Williams said: “The incidence of Covid is small, however, for further protection of our vulnerable and high-risk populations, and for those who would like to continue getting further protection/immunity a booster every six months is recommended.”

Williams said TMO continues to work with New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, Polynesian Health Corridors team, who continues to advise TMO on their approach to vaccinations, boosters, and vaccine supply to ensure it is relevant to the variants.

He said the public is encouraged to continue self-testing, and anyone displaying symptoms of coughs, colds, or flu should do a RAT test to exclude Covid-19.

According to the recent Pacific Syndromic Surveillance System report, Cook Islands had eight active Covid cases.

While the strain of Covid affecting the Cook Islands population is not known, RNZ reports cases in New Zealand are almost all caused by the JN.1 subvariant. They said the traditional vaccine has been holding up well against this new strain.

Immunisation Advisory Centre founder Dr Nikki Turner told RNZ that an updated vaccine expected to arrive within a few weeks “closely matches” JN.1.

Medsafe approved Pfizer’s application for an updated vaccine for the XBB.1.5 strain in December and it would be available in time for the upcoming winter season in New Zealand, according to RNZ.

Dr Turner had said that all vaccines for Covid are preventing a lot of severe disease, though mild disease is expected, even after getting vaccinated. She said that the vaccines are having a very good effect against hospitalisation and offer the best form of protection.

This was reaffirmed by a study on Covid vaccines, published in the medical journal Vaccine, that showed that vaccines prevented deaths. The study estimates vaccines prevented between 4000 and 12,000 deaths during the Omicron phase of the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand. The researchers said it meant there were between 34,000 and 56,000 fewer hospitalisations over the period.

According to Te Marae Ora, regardless of how many boosters you have had, you can get an additional booster now if you are:

  • aged 30 and over
  • pregnant, and aged 16 or over
  • aged 12 to 29 and at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

Boosters are especially recommended for:

  • All people over 65 years old
  • Māori and Pacific people aged 50 and over
  • If you are immunocompromised (organ transplant, current cancer treatment, high dose steroids, immune modulating drugs) - Please contact your doctor if you are unsure.

For further information and appointments, contact the HIU on phone 29114 during business hours or 56180.