Getting vaccinated is the best thing Australians can do to avoid more yo-yoing coronavirus restrictions, infectious diseases experts say.
That’s because the more people we vaccinate, they said, the slower the virus can spread and the easier it is for health departments to get on top of outbreaks early.
Their advice comes after the Victorian government reintroduced some COVID restrictions in Melbourne on Tuesday after a cluster linked to an outbreak in the city’s north grew to nine.
Acting Premier James Merlino said a man in his 60s, announced on Tuesday morning, had symptoms before the first identified case, suggesting he could be the possible source case for the outbreak.
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Meanwhile, Australia’s vaccine rollout program is continuing to trundle along slowly, with only about 3.7 million vaccines administered as of Tuesday.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy have routinely urged Australians to be “patient” at multiple press conferences.
But Deakin University epidemiology chair Professor Catherine Bennett said we can’t afford to delay, as “vaccines are one of the best ways to slow down outbreaks in the community”.
“If all of those people across the two (Melbourne) households had been vaccinated, then it does change that risk equation,” she told The New Daily.
“In the UK, even after one jab of Pfizer or AstraZeneca, you’re seeing up to 40 to 50 per cent reduction in the proportion of household members who are infected.
“It means that you can halve the number of people who are infectious, and that’s a great advantage to the health departments.”
Vaccines effective against Indian strain
In more promising news, a recent study by Public Health England found the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were highly effective against the Indian variant after two doses.
Two jabs of either vaccine give a similar level of protection against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant as they do for the UK B.1.1.7 strain one, the researchers found.
However, both vaccines were only 33 per cent effective against the Indian variant three weeks after the first doses, compared with 50 per cent effectiveness against the UK variant.
Despite this, Public Health England said the vaccines were likely to be even more effective at preventing hospital admission and deaths.
The findings strengthen experts’ pleas for eligible Australians to get their AstraZeneca shots as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the Pfizer jab.
Winter is coming
Professor Brendan Crabb, an infectious diseases researcher and director and CEO of the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, warned those who delayed their vaccinations could be “caught out” during winter.
“Australians really might face coronavirus this winter,” he said.
“If you as an individual or as a government are thinking you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, you’re wrong. That’s a risk you gamble.”
He said he hoped the Melbourne cluster was just a “warning shot” that pushed Victorians to get their vaccines, and hopefully “nothing worse”.
“I totally understand it’s very natural for people to think we’ve got no COVID and there’s a rare side effect with one of the vaccines. It’s human nature,” he said.
“But what isn’t being factored in, is the real chance you’ll get exposed to COVID, and COVID is much more likely to cause serious harm to you than a one-in-a-half-a-million event of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for example.”