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COVID-19 variants

It is a natural process for viruses to change or mutate. The COVID-19 virus has changed over time as it adapts to humans. This has led to new variants of the virus, including the Delta and Omicron variants.

Different variants of COVID-19 may affect how fast the virus spreads, or how sick people get from the virus.

The Delta variant

The Delta variant has spread rapidly worldwide People with Delta infections:

  • can develop more serious COVID-19 illness compared to other variants of the virus
  • are at higher risk of needing hospitalisation
  • seem to carry much more virus (have a higher viral load) and carry it for a longer period compared to other variants
  • may have no symptoms (be asymptomatic) when infectious

Vaccination and Delta

Being fully vaccinated gives you a high degree of protection against Delta infection, and an even higher degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalisation and death.

The effectiveness of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine against symptomatic illness is 64–95%. the effectiveness of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine against hospitalisation or severe disease due to Delta infection is about 90–96%.

The Omicron variant

Omicron was first found in November 2021 and classed as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. It has spread worldwide rapidly and is now present in more than 70 countries. Early evidence suggests that Omicron is likely to be more transmissible than previous variants of the COVID-19 virus, including Delta.

We are still learning about this variant of the virus. Early reports suggest that, compared to Delta:

  • Omicron is more transmissible
  • Omicron may cause similar symptoms, but more data is still needed
  • Omicron has similar hospitalisation rates, but more information is still needed to determine disease severity.

Vaccination and Omicron

Early analysis indicates that the Pfizer vaccine provides some protection against symptomatic disease caused by Omicron, but this protection declines over time. A booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine enhances protection.

Find out about booster doses

Getting vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine is free, voluntary and available to everyone in New Zealand aged 5 and over. It doesn’t matter what your visa or citizenship status is.

Visit Book My Vaccine, or call the COVID Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 to make a booking.  All calls are free, and the team are available from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week. You can ask for an interpreter if you need one.

No vaccine is 100% effective, so there is still some chance that a vaccinated person may become infected with the Delta variant and transmit the virus to other people. Therefore we need to use all available measures, as well as vaccination, to protect ourselves and our communities from getting sick.

How we can protect ourselves

Detecting cases early, contact tracing, and isolating cases and their contacts are essential to stopping the spread of all COVID-19 variants.

We can stamp out any community outbreaks as quickly as possible by:

  • Following the traffic light rules.
  • Wearing face coverings when the traffic light rules require you to.
  • Keeping a physical distance of 2m where possible.
  • Staying home if you have COVID-19 symptoms and calling Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice about getting tested.
  • Keeping track of where you have been by using the NZ COVID Tracer app to scan QR codes, or by keeping detailed notes.
  • Enabling Bluetooth tracing in the NZ COVID Tracer app.

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