Ramesh Thakur writes for the Brownstone Institute about lessons learned from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19 policy.

New Zealand’s strategy had bet the house on stringent measures until vaccines were developed and then the attainment of herd immunity through mass immunization. The bet seemed to have paid off with the development of Covid vaccines in December 2020. 

But then the initial efficacy rates of the vaccines, which were granted emergency use authorization long before the standard period for completion of safety as well as efficacy trials, proved to be of exceptionally short duration, necessitating boosters whose efficacy waned even faster.

This meant that the best pathway to herd immunity was through the combination of more robust and longer-lasting natural immunity from prior infection, and vaccines. It also meant that countries that had avoided mass infection through strict isolation measures had built up an immunity debt that left their populations more vulnerable to globally circulating pathogens once they did open up. 

And the adverse eventual outcome would only be worsened if, as some epidemiologists had warned, contrary to the professional consensus, a mass vaccination campaign in the middle of a pandemic gave an evolutionary advantage to mutations of the virus with greater vaccine escape properties.

When the far more infectious if less lethal Omicron variant struck New Zealand, therefore, the vaccines developed to combat the original Wuhan strain proved unfit for the purpose of controlling the spread. New Zealand’s cases and deaths really took off in mid-February 2022, despite a vaccination coverage of 77% of the entire population by then. In addition, the greater vulnerability of its population to new viral strains produced some sort of a catching-up effect in the Covid-related case, hospitalization, ICU and death numbers.

By August 2022, New Zealand’s cumulative Covid-19 cases per million people had surpassed the US and was on track to catch up with the UK and EU.