Are We Re-Opening Too Early?

The Federal Government continues to insist on removing Covid-19 restrictions once 80% of Australian adults are vaccinated. But according to Prof Quentin Grafton, a policy analyst from ANU, “We simply can’t afford to do that, both in terms of lives and long-term illness from Covid.”

Grafton’s research team includes UWA epidemiologist Dr Zoë Hyde and Melbourne University environmental economist Prof Tom Kompas. The three modelled the spread of SARS-CoV-2 based on the delta variant basic reproductive number (how many people each infected person infects) and efficacy figures for the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.

Assuming 80% adult vaccination coverage under the government’s National Plan, Grafton and his team predict 50,000 casualties and 270,000 cases of long Covid – that is, persons with post-viral fatigue and other symptoms lasting months. 

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The government’s plan, it’s worth mentioning, is less a “plan” and more a one-page dot-point wish list. It is based on the Doherty Institute modelling, which assumes test, trace and isolate continues to function even when faced with millions of symptomatic Covid cases.

Grafton’s team say that at least 90% of the whole population, including children, need to be vaccinated before restrictions are fully removed. “Children also directly benefit from vaccination. If we could achieve 75 cent vaccination coverage among children and adolescents, we could prevent 12,000 hospitalisations in these age groups,” they say.

For herd immunity to be achieved, 95% of the entire population would need to be vaccinated. All those vaccinated with AstraZeneca would require an mRNA vaccine booster. “The consequences of prematurely and fully relaxing public health measures to suppress COVID-19, even after vaccinating 80 per cent of adults, would likely be irreversible, and unacceptable to many Australians,” Dr Hyde said

“For all these reasons and more, it’s simply too dangerous to treat COVID-19 like the flu.”

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