New Zealand is gradually moving to remove restrictions for international travelers that require them to get a mandatory Covid-vaccine during their trip, the Department of Health said Monday.
Access to the compulsory vaccine, a potential rabies agent, was made unavailable to travelers earlier this year because of limited supply, but from 2022 everyone on the country’s mainland will be able to get it.
Health officials said the introduction of the mandatory vaccine would “remain a requirement,” but over time the government hopes to reduce the requirement to just 3 percent of the population.
The move comes in light of statistics showing that outbreaks of rabies, a vicious viral disease, have significantly decreased from their 2000 peak.
The news of the New Zealand government’s policy shift was greeted with cheers in an Internet fundraising campaign with the help of actor Stephen Fry to raise funds for the country’s veteran animal shelters.
People from all over the world had signed onto the new policy in a bid to preserve some of the nation’s pooches, who often can’t afford veterinary care without help from the crowdsourcing campaign.
Dr. Ruth Mason, from the ministry’s vaccine unit, said that the expansion of the policy would “help us meet our World Health Organization target of eradicating rabies as a human disease by 2020.”
Dr. Guy McLaughlin, the country’s chief veterinary officer, said the decision was all about “consistency, not cost.”
“I really think at this point in time we need to show that New Zealand can meet its international commitments and that all countries can have the technology and resources to meet these commitments,” he told radio station Newstalk ZB.
New Zealand’s only other national rabies carrier, Samoa, has also publicly discussed whether to expand its anti-rabies measures to allow for voluntary anti-rabies vaccinations to be given to travellers.
Rabies vaccinations were previously mandatory for travel to other countries for residents and those working on the islands.
Dr. Wilson Tetteh, secretary for epidemiology at the Health Ministry, said that people who are affected by rabies should immediately contact the Health Ministry or their GP for details.
The World Health Organization is currently in the midst of a five-year global action plan to reduce the rabies human toll by 10 percent.
Last year marked the World Health Organization’s 20th anniversary, which was marked with action plans aimed at reducing the human toll of the disease.