Australia can learn from the US’s coronavirus vaccination rollout, the nation’s top infectious disease adviser Dr Anthony Fauci says.
Dr Fauci, who has advised seven US presidents, gave a lecture to the University of NSW on Wednesday.
He admitted the US’s initial pandemic response was poor.
“We had an inconsistent response, which allowed us … to really do worse than essentially any other country” the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.
The US has recorded more than 550,000 deaths, while Australia has performed among the best nations in the world, with fewer than 1000 lives lost.
“You had the capability and the uniformity of your citizens that when you shut down, you really shut down very effectively,” Dr Fauci said.
But now, with a change of president and change in approach, the US is in the midst of a dramatic turnaround.
It is now among the world leaders in a different statistic – vaccinations per capita.
Australia, on the other hand, fell 3.3 million short of a target to fully vaccinate four million people by the end of March. The federal government then discarded its vaccine rollout targets altogether after receiving updated medical advice on the AstraZeneca jab.
Dr Fauci’s advice to Australia, which has so far administered about 1.29 million vaccine doses, is to make the rollout the “highest priority” and to make it equitable.
“What (President Joe Biden) has done, for example, is open up community vaccine centres, get vaccines to the pharmacies, develop mobile units to go out to get the people who are in poorly accessible areas,” he said.
Retired physicians, military personnel, nurses and medical students – as many vaccinators as possible – are out in the field.
“It works – the day before yesterday we had 4.6 million vaccinations performed in a single day.”
Although Australia is largely virus free, an efficient rollout is increasingly important as new virus variants emerge.
“As long as there’s the dynamic of virus replication somewhere, there will always be the threat of the emergence of variants, which could then come back,” Dr Fauci said.
“Even though most of the rest of the world is vaccinated, it can threaten the world that has felt that they’ve controlled the virus, when they’re still quite vulnerable.”
Helping developing nations vaccinate their citizens is key to managing that threat too, he said.