In the face of the risk posed by the Delta variant of Covid-19, Kiwis will now be given their two doses of the Pfizer jab six weeks apart, instead of as little as three.
The move comes as the Government this morning announced that everyone eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand will be able to make a booking to get it from September 1, instead of October as originally planned.
Vaccine eligibility dates for the remaining groups of the population are also being brought forward. Those over 40 years old will now be eligible from August 18, instead of mid to late August for those over 45. People over 30 will now be eligible from August 25, instead of mid to late September for those over 35.
The Director-General of Health said the changes announced today would allow authorities to give more people their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine faster.
“This is an important part of our being prepared for a possible outbreak of the more infectious Delta variant of the virus,” Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.
“Early findings from a small number of well-designed studies show that an extended duration between doses of the Pfizer vaccine gives at least an equally robust immune response, with no additional safety concerns.”
Extending the interval between doses would also reduce the likelihood of rare side effects, Bloomfield said.
He said this brings New Zealand in line with other countries like Denmark and Norway, where Pfizer vaccine doses are given between six and 12 weeks apart.
People at higher risk, such as those with a weakened immune system or those working in high-risk settings like at the border, may still be advised to get their doses three weeks apart.
“I do want to reassure people that if you have already been fully vaccinated with two doses less than six weeks apart, as we have been doing, you will have very strong protection against the virus and do not need to doubt that,” Bloomfield said.
“People who already have vaccinations booked less than six weeks apart can keep their second appointment or choose to change it. Either way, the most important thing is that everybody needs two doses of the vaccine to be fully vaccinated.”
Bloomfield said the changes wouldn’t impact when the country finished its vaccination campaign.
“District Health Boards continue to add capacity to their vaccination programmes, and we are opening age bands sooner than expected because of the high level of interest and increasing system capacity,” he said.
Widening the gap between doses is consistent with calls from experts like immunologist Professor Graham Le Gros of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa.
"You actually get a higher antibody, which means that your body is much more protected against the virus," Le Gros said.
"If we delay the time, it just means you've got more vaccines. Getting a number of people who've all been vaccinated at least once would actually greatly protect our population.”
Yesterday, the Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins signalled that if there was a case of the highly-infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 in the community, part or the whole of Aotearoa would enter Alert Level 4 lockdown.
People who want to reschedule their vaccinations can do so at bookmyvaccine.nz or by phoning the Covid Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26.