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COVID Variant Requires Vaccine Timetable Review

“The Government must reconsider waiting for Medsafe approval before making COVID vaccines available, in light of the new more contagious COVID strain sweeping the world,” says ACT Leader David Seymour

"We've got used to feeling a bit invincible as an island nation on a pandemic planet, this new variant could give us a very sharp jolt if we don't review our strategy.

“The risk of an outbreak that is uncontrollable or extremely costly to control with a prolonged Alert Level four lockdown has just dramatically increased. That change in risk requires a response in New Zealand’s strategy, particularly in the Government’s approach to vaccination.

“The COVID world has changed. The new variant of COVID-19 spread through the U.K. despite restrictions similar to New Zealand’s Alert Level 3 in November. The U.K. is now going into the equivalent of Alert Level 4 for an indefinite period, likely to last the rest of the Northern Hemisphere winter.

“Given New Zealand’s history of border bungles, highlighted in the Simpson-Roche report, the new B.1.1.7 variant could change New Zealand’s COVID reality suddenly and dramatically.

“With the higher reproduction rate of B.1.1.7, the probability of a breach at the border is higher, and the challenge of containing one is much greater. With the new strain, we might have lost control of the August or November outbreaks, or needed tougher and longer lockdowns.

“The Government’s response of more tests at the border, while admirable, really only increases the chance of detecting an infection marginally. It will catch however many people's COVID-19 was detectable on day 0 of arrival but not day 3 or 12, when tests are currently administered.

“On December 1, the Prime Minister told Parliament that ‘Some countries, because they are experiencing a large-scale loss of life, may choose to accept higher risk in their regulatory process.’ She also referenced delivery dates and ongoing research by vaccine manufacturers.

“In the last month, COVID vaccination has changed. 13 million people have been vaccinated in 33 countries, with the number expected to accelerate. One-in-seven Israelis has already had their first shot.

“Is the Prime Minister still saying that, despite millions being vaccinated worldwide, it is possible Medsafe will tell the New Zealand Government not to distribute any of the four vaccines it has purchased? If not, then what are we waiting for?

“If we wait for Medsafe to confirm that the rest of the developed world has got it right, we are not scheduled to begin vaccination for the general public until June. Too many New Zealanders are holding out for certainty, and eventual reconnection with the world. Again we are relying on luck and isolation while the Government takes a relaxed approach to our defences.

“The risk has changed, the question is whether the Government will change its calculations. If it is not prepared to bring forward vaccine approval, it should explain why it doesn’t think the new variant justifies it. If there are other constraints, such as delivery or distribution capacity, it should say what they are.

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