Aotearoa New Zealand implemented a Covid-19 elimination strategy in 2020 and 2021, which enabled a large majority of the population to be vaccinated before being exposed to the virus.

This strategy delivered one of the lowest pandemic mortality rates in the world. However, quantitative estimates of the population-level health benefits of vaccination are lacking. Here, we use a validated mathematical model of Covid-19 in New Zealand to investigate counterfactual scenarios with differing levels of vaccine coverage in different age and ethnicity groups. The model builds on earlier research by adding age and time-dependent case ascertainment, the effect of antiviral medications, improved hospitalisation rate estimates, and the impact of relaxing control measures. The model was used for scenario analysis and policy advice for the New Zealand Government in 2022 and 2023.

We compare the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations, deaths, and years of life lost in each counterfactual scenario to a baseline scenario that is fitted to epidemiological data between January 2022 and June 2023. Our results estimate that vaccines saved 6650 (95% credible interval [4424, 10180]) lives, and prevented 74500 [51000, 115400] years of life lost and 45100 [34400, 55600] hospitalisations during this 18-month period. Making the same comparison before the benefit of antiviral medications is accounted for, the estimated number of lives saved by vaccines increases to 7604 [5080, 11942]. Due to inequities in the vaccine rollout, vaccination rates among Māori were lower than in people of European ethnicity. Our results show that, if vaccination rates had been equitable, an estimated 11–26% of the 292 Māori Covid-19 deaths that were recorded in this time period could have been prevented. We conclude that Covid-19 vaccination greatly reduced health burden in New Zealand and that equity needs to be a key focus of future vaccination programmes.

Read pre-print online at arxiv