Planning for new variants is part of the government’s Covid 19 Response Plans which are designed to adapt and to be updated as new variants appear according to the government’s Director General of Health and Social Services, Gaylene Tasmania.
“Planning for Omicron had already commenced last year. Not just for Omicron but Delta first and then Omicron, so with the emergence of those variants we reviewed our plans. We need to be mindful that Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant but the symptoms are less severe.
“The government’s response has been strict and robust since Covid started and now it looks like the rest of the world are doing what Niue has been doing all this time. We’ve had pre-departure tests; for example, that New Zealand has only recently introduced as a result of the Delta variant”, says Mrs Tasmania.
The Director-General was on the first News of the Week Radio programme for 2022 last Friday. Mrs Tasmania told the programme that the number one defense against Covid 19 and any of its variants is vaccinations and boosters.
“The vaccine rollout remains our key defense against all variants of Covid-19, including Omicron, and the government had requested both the booster doses and pediatric vaccine doses from New Zealand well before the end of last year.”
She explained the long process of securing vaccines for the island and the collaboration between the government health officials and their counterparts in New Zealand.
“[Last year] the guidance for the administration of the booster dose was six months after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine which would take us, those who had participated in that mass vaccination, that would take us to the end of January-early-February.
“However, when Omicron came on the scene that guidance changed from six months between the second dose and the booster to four months. By which time it was Christmas, the end of the year everyone was going on a break including our counterparts in New Zealand. What that meant for us, is that we were not able to complete the formal processes of an exchange of letters between our government and the government of New Zealand which is what has to happen formally for vaccine distribution outside of New Zealand.
Once we reopen for the New Year, those formalities were completed and we placed our first booster order which arrived on Monday”
The Niue Health Department began administering the booster shots on Tuesday last week. According to the government’s Head of Public Health Grizelda Mokoia, six hundred and eighty-nine people were vaccinated last week from Tuesday to Friday.
Six hundred and eighty-four were booster shots for the eligible population of over 18-year-olds, and five were the second dose for the 12 to 15-year-olds.
There are an estimated one thousand one hundred people eligible for booster shots, this number includes the essential workers on the island who were vaccinated in New Zealand.
The message from the government is to encourage people to get their booster shots to protect them from Omicron.
The booster rollout will be completed on Friday this week after which the Health Department will begin preparations and training to administer the paediatric vaccine to the five to eleven-year-olds in the next few weeks.