Rapidly vaccinating under-40s is crucial if Australia is to open up with limited COVID-19 deaths and an intact health system, one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists has warned.
It comes as new advice from the Doherty Institute presented to national cabinet warned “medium” level of restrictions would be needed until Australia reaches 80 per cent of fully vaccinated adults over the age of 16.
“Medium” restrictions are thought to include stay-at-home orders except for work, study and other essential reasons for leaving home.
UNSW epidemiologist and World Health Organisation adviser Mary-Louise McLaws said one of the major flaws in the federal government’s plan for reopening is that it has put vaccination for younger Australians at the back of its priority list.
“The 16 to 39-year-olds, they represent an enormous risk for acquiring and spreading COVID,” Professor McLaws told The New Daily.
“At the moment the over 16s (to 39-year-olds) are 43 per cent double vaccinated so we need another 27 days to get to it 70 per cent.
“If you look at New South Wales health data, the week ending the 28th of August showed that 20 to 39-year-olds represented 40 per cent of all cases.”
Professor McLaws has long warned that younger Australians are the key demographic acquiring and spreading COVID-19, and that the under-40s group must be vaccinated urgently.
“We have basically had them at the back of the queue. We need to bring them to the front,” Professor McLaws said.
One way to ensure younger Australians can get vaccinated would be to park immunisation buses outside major supermarkets in NSW and Victoria, she said.
“They all need to buy food … [authorities need to] do something innovative so these poor young people can get out of their homes.”
Freedoms for the vaccinated
Professor McLaws’ warning comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged more freedoms for vaccinated Australians on Friday.
“You will see vaccinated people being able to move and do more things,” Mr Morrison told radio station 3AW.
“They’re less likely to get the virus, transmit the virus, get a serious illness and end up in hospital,” he said.
“And so, that won’t put the pressure on the public hospital system.”
But Doherty Institute presented new modelling to national cabinet which looked at what would happen with tens, hundreds and thousands of COVID-19 cases in the community at 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates of the 16+ population.
The modelling showed it would be “prudent” for moderate public health measures to stay in place until 80 per cent of those over 16 were vaccinated if there were higher rates of transmission – as there are currently in Melbourne and Sydney.
The pandemic will continue to be “a fire fought on multiple fronts”, the new modelling said.