A strategic public health advisory group of independent experts will advise Government on the country's post-vaccination future, officials announced today.
“New Zealand has worked towards an elimination strategy which has been successful in keeping our people safe and our economy in good shape," Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today in a joint statement with Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall.
"The next phase of the pandemic poses significant challenges, including the emergence of new variants, but it also provides us with new opportunities."
The group will be chaired by Professor Sir David Skegg, a special adviser to Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee during the Covid-19 pandemic and who also served as an adviser to the World Health Organization for more than three decades.
The group will be made up of immunisation, primary healthcare and preventative child health specialist Dr Nikki Turner; infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Philip Hill, Auckland Hospital Department of Clinical Immunology and Allergy lead clinician Dr Maia Brewerton; infectious diseases expert and University of Otago Dean Professor David Murdoch and Otago University biostatistical expert Dr Ella Iosua.
Verrall says the Government will face "a number of decisions regarding our border and public health settings" as the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine ramps up later this year.
A strategic public health advisory group, set up late last month, will help provide "independent advice and analysis to the Government, informed by their expertise in epidemiology, infectious diseases, public health, and modelling on these future decisions", Verrall said.
She said the Government would seek the group's advice on a number of issues, including how much of the New Zealand population must be vaccinated before the country's border settings can be relaxed, "evidence for transmission blocking properties of the vaccine, strategic public health controls when the borders reopen and public health responses to any new variants that aren’t covered by our current vaccine options".
Verrall says the Ministry of Health will support the group and share useful information. The group will also work alongside Sir Brian Roche’s Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group, particularly around health protections post-vaccine.
She says group members will also have a public-facing role, with the experts being required to "communicate the science behind any changes to New Zealand's border settings" once advice has been considered.
The Group will report to Hipkins via Verrall, who will be meeting with the members regularly.
Rodney Jones and Shaun Hendy will serve as special advisors to the group and will assist with modelling work as required. Dr Ian Town has been named observer.
The group’s term began on March 31 and will continue through to June 1, next year.