Rabu, 23 Juni 2021

Coronavirus Australia: Is the vaccine rollout designed to be slow and ineffective? - The Australian

Given Australia’s last place in the OECD full-vaccinated race, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s vaccination figures aren’t worth boasting about. Pictures: NCA Newswire/AFP/AFP
Given Australia’s last place in the OECD full-vaccinated race, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s vaccination figures aren’t worth boasting about. Pictures: NCA Newswire/AFP/AFP

Another day, another Covid-19 outbreak.

I’ve been measuring them by air traffic divided by AFL teams. Two weeks ago, those teams, most of them Melbourne based, were flooding north. The SCG was hosting three games a round in a rapidly cobbled together fixture.

Now, they are racing back to Melbourne and to other southern states to keep the season rolling along.

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We have become accustomed to the usual panic driven public health responses of red zones etched onto maps and travel bubbles bursting and with the Delta variant, a more infectious type of coronavirus becoming the standard for community transmission. In the absence of a successful vaccination roll out to date, this is Australia’s Covid-19 normal.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told the parliament yesterday during Question Time, “What we have seen now is that we have over 27 per cent of all Australians who have been vaccinated, over 48 per cent of those over 50 years of age and we have over 65 per cent of those that are over 70 (have been vaccinated).”

Not much of a boast

It’s not much of a boast to be honest.

Compared to the other 37 OECD nations, we are languishing in the back of the field. Australia is fourth last in front of only New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, and Japan.

While the Minister’s rhetoric relates to Australians who have received their first shot, in terms of percentage of the population fully vaccinated (people having received their second shots of a two-step vaccination), Australia is stone motherless last.

Right now the only incentive for Australians to vaccinate is common sense, a powerful motivator it must be said, and people have grasped the opportunities. The problem remains the availability of vaccines and the Pfizer vaccine in particular.

To date there has been no government advertising campaign. There is little or no incentive to vaccinate, limp attempts to inform the vaccine hesitant and no evidence-based kicks for the anti-vaxxers.

Channel 9’s vaccination advertisment. Picture: Twitter
Channel 9’s vaccination advertisment. Picture: Twitter

Television networks have done more, trotting out their personalities, grinning on screen while they roll their sleeves up with some matey message and related jingles.

We know the government has been hamstrung by ongoing advice to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In the heat of that we have seen some incredibly irresponsible statements, not least of all that from the ABC’s resident panic merchant, Norman Swan, who claimed on radio last week that if it were not for the pandemic, the AstraZeneca vaccine would probably be taken off the market.

Slow, fraught with difficulty

The relatively minor issues associated with the AZ vaccine notwithstanding, it’s almost as if the vaccine roll out has been designed to be slow and fraught with difficulties.

And to take that further, we need to contemplate what Australia will look like when the roll out is all but done with the key moment, the opening of our international borders.

Let me paint a picture of what that future might look like. Let’s assume that two-thirds of Australians are fully vaccinated by February 2022 (excluding those 16 or younger where the advice at present is not to vaccinate). The US and Canada are among a range of countries who are making Covid-19 vaccinations available to children aged between 12 and 15 and this includes the Pfizer vaccine. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration is taking a wait and see approach.

Australians aged 16 years of age or more make up 80 per cent of the population.

Let’s assume that 20 per cent of those Australians are not vaccinated as February 2022 rolls around.

New point of political division

Let’s assume, too, that the country opens its borders at or around that time. The first thing we can expect when that moment arrives is Covid-19 outbreaks and more than a few of them. If you are vaccinated, the chances of becoming seriously ill or worse are mitigated by the vaccine. If you are not vaccinated, well, I shouldn’t have to spell out the consequences.

Vaccination will become a new point of political division.

One Nation boss Pauline Hanson. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Peter Lorimer.
One Nation boss Pauline Hanson. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Peter Lorimer.

The social landscape will change. Vaccination will become a requirement of employment across a range of industries. The workplace is where people gather in number after all. For example, if an aged care worker refuses to vaccinate, surely they are in the wrong job.

Vaccination may be required for entry to indoor sporting events, concerts, cinemas, even your local watering hole. It almost certainly will be a requirement to travel by air internationally and domestically.

For the most part, these are not decisions governments will be obliged to make. Largely, corporate Australia will make them based on their interests and a perception of their legal liabilities. The so-called vaccine passport is a vague concept the government has not yet articulated.

The upshot is a febrile political atmosphere with an associated clamour of discrimination against the unvaccinated, hyper-charged by a defined point of separation between those who are vaccinated and those who choose not to be, the air heavy with muttering about deep state persuasions.

Sniffing around the anti-vax vote

It necessarily will add another level to voting determinants. Some minor parties might seek to benefit from it with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation already sniffing around for the anti-vax vote.

Similarly, there are political benefits to be enjoyed by incumbents associated with our present Covid-19 normal, a drab routine of red zones and lockdowns.

We’ve seen it in the states and the same voting determinations will exist federally. Australians, it seems, rather like the idea of international and state borders being closed, in the name of community protection. But it’s a fool’s paradise with the economy spluttering along, constrained by labour and skills shortages. It is unsustainable.

The federal government may well have planned a faster and more effective vaccination roll out but once the problems started, not just with AZ but also the failures to enlist dedicated vaccination points – pharmacies, and state health bureaucracies, there has been no urgency apparent in speeding it up.

If you’re as cynical as I am, you will start circling dates for the next federal election, up to the point where the country finally opens up its borders. Beyond that, thar be dragons for any federal government.


Peter Hoysted is Jack the Insider: a highly placed, dedicated servant of the nation with close ties to leading figures in politics, business and the union movement.

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2021-06-23 02:57:00Z

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