Complacency, wishful thinking and misinformation are all contiributing to our lack of success in containing the spread of COVID-19

by John Dwyer

Image: Wikimedia Commons I don’t read “The Australian” so I did not know until I received a barrage of emails from ‘anti-vaxxers’ lauding the wisdom therein, that on July 4 the paper had published an ‘Opinion’ piece criticising Australia’s response to the SARS virus. The article claimed that the incompetence involved warranted examination by a Royal Commission.
The author was Nick Cater, Director of the Menzies Institute. He has a long history of working for various Murdoch media platforms. In this article he writes:-
“Yet the Omicron variant notwithstanding, are we not entitled to ask for more evidence of the degree of protection these imperfect vaccines are delivering? Are we not entitled to ask for more transparency about the severity of vaccine injuries?
It is difficult to imagine a single politician or prominent public servant who would be likely to emerge unscathed from a royal commission.
Neither the political class nor the mainstream media has the appetite for a debate that might prove they were not quite as smart as they thought they were or the things about which they scared us witless for two years may have been, shall we say, a little over-egged.”
“Over-egged”! This article is published as infections with the virus that causes Covid-19 are rapidly increasing fuelled by at least two new ‘variants” that have managed to develop properties to that make it more difficult for our immune systems to detect and eliminate them.
Our hospitals are again in crisis with exhausted and many sick staff forced to stay home. Service delivery (e.g Airports) and industry productiveness are being crippled by huge rates of absenteeism because of respiratory infections including Covid. Yesterday we learnt of worrisome figures re the number of sick GPs currently unable to work. Thousands of Australians are struggling to regain post-Covid health as they struggle with the often times devastating fatigue of ‘Long-Covid’.
Most troubling is the reality that deaths from Covid are increasing across Australia (more than 50 yesterday). The current statistics speak to bureaucratic and community complacency not the unwarranted overreaction claimed by Mr. Cater.
Consider this. As I wrote we have documented, across Australia, more than 41,000 new cases of infection with the SARS virus in the last 24 hours. We know of 258,000 active cases with 4468 Covid-19 cases currently in our hospitals. So far we have 10,384 fellow Australians who have died after developing Covid-19.
Alarmingly we know active case numbers are far greater than those quoted above. Studies show many do not notify authorities after a self-administered RAT test. Many do not bother to get tested if they have mild symptoms on advice from Health departments and yet may well be infectious.
I may not read ‘The Australian’ but I do read ‘The Lancet’ one of medicine’s most influential journals. Just last week the journal published a global analysis of SARS vaccine effectiveness, endorsed by the WHO, which reported that, between Dec 2020 and December 2021, almost 20 million deaths from Covid-19 have been prevented by vaccination.
That is encouraging but still frustrating when one notes that nearly 6.5 million people have died from a Covid-19 infection, the vast majority of whom were unvaccinated. In Australia studies just for 2020-2021 suggest that at least 16,000 deaths from Covid-19 were prevented by vaccination.
Globally the poor uptake/availability of vaccines is not only killing people but leaving us all vulnerable to the constant reinvention of itself by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In Nigeria, for example, only 13% of its population of 211 million have had two doses of vaccine. The rate at which viruses can multiply in host cells and experiment with new versions (variants) is greatly enhanced if multiplication is not being hampered by the presence of a vaccine initiated immune response.
The epidemic of Covid misinformation has seen a resurgence after Cater’s article in which he asks if we “have just experienced the greatest public policy fiasco of our lifetimes”.
Here are a couple of samples from emails sent to me and about 60 other “dangerously misguided so called scientists”
“The global and regional epidemiological evidence shows the current vaccines have protected nobody anywhere in the world from catching Covid-19 or then transmitting it on in limited close contact setting of person-to-person spread”
“The global and regional epidemiological evidence shows the original meteorite dust form of the virus (Oct 11 2019 to about Mar-April 2020), and the later on the ground human-passaged plumed aerosol forms (variants) of the virus are shuffled in the lower atmosphere ( troposphere) and sometimes upper stratosphere via prevailing global wind systems. That is its primary mode of spread.”
“So it’s completely BATSHIT CRAZY that people, including children, and soon babies, are being pressured to have these rubbish jabs over and over again, along with testing, testing, testing if people have the sniffles. Billions and billions of dollars squandered on these interventions, and who knows how much damage done by the dodgy jabs!”
I only draw attention to the above here because of the problems associated with living in an age where genuine expertise is readily dismissed by social media pundits whose influence is disproportionate and often dangerous.
Now the truth Australia, is that we are being foolishly complacent in the face of growing evidence that, far from being over, we are heading for a prolonged resurgence of so many infections that we face the real possibility of a new round of economically and socially disruptive restrictions.
We seem to be patting ourselves on the back for having done a wonderful job in getting so many Australians vaccinated. The truth is that our vaccination rate is dangerously inadequate. Only 40% of children aged 5-11 years have had two injections. While among our 16 years plus population 94% have had two doses, only 62% have had a third dose and, alarmingly that figure has plateaued. We should be striving to have at least 90% of the population protected by vaccination.
Thinking about desired vaccination rates for our community one needs to consider the following. The vaccines are extraordinarily safe. If you have derived the maximum benefits available from currently available vaccines you have 85-95% protection from becoming so ill with a Covid-19 infection that you will need care in an ICU and be in danger of dying.
This seems to be true for the new Omicron Ba4 and Ba5 variants though we need more data to be certain. Early data suggest they may cause more lung infections than previous variants.
Vaccination, as is quite obvious at the moment, does not prevent infection and infectiousness though both are less likely in the fully vaccinated who in the majority of cases will have a mild illness if infected.
The key message here is about being ’fully vaccinated’. You are not fully vaccinated if you have not had a fourth injection no longer than three months after your third. Clearly the immune response to two and even three injections is protective but only for a few months. Hence the recommendation this week that all over 50 get a fourth shot which is also available to anyone above the age of 30.
As noted above, we are far from reaching this goal with only 62% of adults having had a third injection. I fear vaccine complacency is dangerously common. Everyone who has not had a third shot should get one immediately and no more than three months later get a fourth injection. Before the end of the year we can expect new vaccines containing elements of Ba4 and Ba5 to be available but don’t wait.
What about our young children (6 months to 5 years of age)? Vaccines have been approved for this age group and parents should not hesitate to have their kids vaccinated. A very recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine put the case for childhood vaccination thus:-
“Although the highest risk of illness and death from Covid-19 occurs among older adults and populations with underlying coexisting conditions, children are at risk for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection that can lead to severe Covid-19–related outcomes, including hospitalisation, the use of life-supporting interventions, and death. The burden of Covid-19 in children extends to social issues such as school interruptions and other life disruptions that may result in long-term consequences for academic development and well-being. Complications of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children and adolescents can include the development of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children and sequelae such as long Covid-19. These outcomes indicate a compelling need to protect children through vaccination”.
I am concerned about uptake of vaccination in this age group as recent data shows that instead of the usual 60% of influenza vaccinations each year in this age group, uptake at the moment is only 20%.
This article focusses on vaccination but crucially we must accept that there is no going back to the lifestyle of 2019. A degree of social distancing must be the new normal as must our attention to better ventilation. At least until we have reached our vaccination targets (which no doubt will need yearly boosting as with Influenza) we should be wearing masks in any crowded setting. I note reports that “mandatory” wearing of masks on public transport has collapsed.
Crucially, we need our new government to fulfil the promise of an Australian ‘Centre for Disease Control’ to resource us for the continuing challenges we can anticipate from infectious diseases.