Jacinda Ardern wants to make New Zealand a world leader in Covid vaccinations, inoculating 90% of the population, but experts warn there will be challenges ahead as the prime minister seeks to find a way to take the harshest lockdowns “out of the toolbox”.
Ardern’s aim to make the population one of the most vaccinated in the world may seem ambitious but it was made as Covid modellers warned that anything less could result in 7,000 deaths, and 60,000 hospitalisations in the event of a community outbreak. So far, New Zealand has recorded a total of just 27 deaths.
“The best outcome would be what is called ‘population immunity’,” says Shaun Hendy, a Covid-19 modeller at research centre Te Pūnaha Matatini. “This is where enough people are vaccinated that the virus simply can’t find new people to infect. Outbreaks fizzle out on their own.” If the R value – or reproductive rate of the virus – can remain below 1, then the effects of the virus would be “greatly blunted”, he says.
But the centre’s modelling shows that because Delta is so transmissible, population immunity is out of reach by way of the vaccine alone; other public measures must be adopted to bolster its effects. Even if 80% of the population is vaccinated, a community outbreak of the virus would lead to thousands of deaths and put immense strain on the already under-resourced healthcare system: