Executive summary

New Zealand experienced a wave of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in early 2022, which occurred against a backdrop of high two-dose vaccination rates, ongoing roll-out of boosters and paediatric doses, and negligible levels of prior infection.

New Omicron subvariants have subsequently emerged with a significant growth advantage over the previously dominant BA.2. We investigated a mathematical model that included waning of vaccine-derived and infection-derived immunity, as well as the impact of the BA.5 subvariant which began spreading in New Zealand in May 2022. The model was used to provide scenarios to the New Zealand Government with differing levels of BA.5 growth advantage, helping to inform policy response and healthcare system preparedness during the winter period.

In all scenarios investigated, the projected peak in new infections during the BA.5 wave was smaller than in the first Omicron wave in March 2022. However, results indicated that the peak hospital occupancy was likely to be higher than in March 2022, primarily due to a shift in the age distribution of infections to older groups. We compare model results with subsequent epidemiological data and show that the model provided a good projection of cases, hospitalizations and deaths during the BA.5 wave.

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