Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraSeven in ten people aged 16 and over will need to be fully vaccinated for COVID restrictions to begin to be eased, under targets agreed in principle by national cabinet on Friday.
Further relaxation and opening beyond that, including a near end to lockdowns, will require 80% of those eligible to have had two doses.
At present the proportion of people 16 and over fully vaccinated is 18.24%, while nearly 40% have had a single dose.
Each targets is dual – it must be met at both the national level and in the particular state or territory. Scott Morrison described it as a “two key process”.
Announcing the targets on Friday night, Morrison said no timeline has been attached to them.
But he believed the 70% target could be reached by the end of the year.
“There will certainly be the supply and the distribution and the opportunity to do that. But whether that is achieved is up to all of us.”
The long-awaited numbers have been attached to the four-phase re-opening plan previously endorsed in principle by the national cabinet.
In the current phase, the objective is to suppress COVID, including by tough lockdowns.
The second “transition” phase, triggered by the 70% vaccination levels, seeks to minimise severe illness, hospitalisation and deaths with low level restrictions.
In this phase, lockdowns would still be possible but less likely.
Restrictions would be eased on vaccinated residents. Morrison said this was “because if you’re vaccinated, you present less of a public health risk.
“You are less likely to get the virus. You are less likely to transmit it.” But the detail of how this would operate is still to be worked out.
The third “consolidation” phase – triggered by the 80% threshold – would have only highly targeted lockdowns, such as for vulnerable communities, and would exempt vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions.
In the final phase, COVID would be treated like other infectious diseases.
The targets follow modelling from the Doherty Institute and work by Treasury.
They come as the latest tally of cases in Sydney, where the lockdown has been extended by one month, was 170 new community cases.
Amid calls for the NSW government to impose an even tougher lockdown, Morrison said it had been agreed “under this plan, no state or territory is required to increase the restrictions beyond where they are right now.”
Morrison said in the suppression phase, “going
hard early” with lockdowns “ultimately results in less cost on the economy”.
But in phase B “then the calculus does change and lockdowns do cost a lot”.
After the announcement crossbench MP Craig Kelly, who was formerly in the Liberal party, lashed out on Twitter, claiming constitutional freedoms were being violated and declaring “WE MUST FIGHT THIS”.
This updated advice was given by ATAGI (the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation), the government’s expert vaccine advisory body, on July 24. Why would it change to recommending either AstraZeneca or Pfizer, after months of preferring Pfizer for younger people?
More young people are being hospitalised, in ICU and dying during this current outbreak in Australia, where the Delta strain is dominating.
Whether this is a function of the Delta strain being more dangerous to young people, or because older people are (as a group) more likely to be protected by already being vaccinated, remains a subject of debate.
So if you are 18 or older and have not been vaccinated yet, you may be asking whether getting an AstraZeneca vaccine right now is the right thing for you to do. To answer this we need to consider the benefits and risks of the AstraZeneca vaccination.
What do vaccines achieve?
When thinking about what any COVID-19 vaccine should achieve, there is an order of priority.
First, it should stop people who catch COVID-19 from dying.
Second, it should reduce risk of severe disease (symptoms bad enough to need ICU treatment).
Third, hospitalisations should go down.
If a vaccine is doing more than these three things, it is a bonus.
We are very lucky the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines not only achieve all three, they also decrease numbers of people suffering illness of any sort (including mild symptoms), and possibly even reduce transmission (making people who have caught COVID-19 less infective).
Do vaccines work against the Delta variant?
Since Delta became the dominant strain of COVID-19 worldwide, researchers have been working hard to see how well current vaccines perform against it.
So far, the news is good. Let’s look at the evidence.
In the United Kingdom where the Delta strain is the cause of the majority of infections at the moment, there were 229,218 COVID infections between February and July. Of these, 12.5% were in fully vaccinated people. These are known as “breakthrough infections” (because they “broke through” the protection of the vaccine).
Of those breakthrough infections, 3.8%, required a visit to ED. Just 2.9% required hospital admission, and less than 1% died.
This means even though the vaccines didn’t fully protect people against disease, they did achieve their primary purpose: to save lives and keep people out of hospital.
That’s why it’s so important for vaccinated people to still observe all the other evidence-based ways of reducing spread including wearing masks, social distancing, and lockdown restrictions – at least until we have enough people in the community vaccinated.
Of course there are potential risks from the AstraZeneca vaccine: injection site pain, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, fever and chills are the most commonly reported side effects.
Most of these are mild and temporary, going away within one to two days.
There are also rare but severe side effects: anaphylaxis (two to five per million people), and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia (TTS) – known colloquially as “clots”. The only risk factor that has been shown to predict how likely you are to get TTS after an AstraZeneca vaccine is age.
TTS clots are very different from other blood clots you may hear about. In the same way that having a basal cell cancer removed from your skin does not make you more at risk of getting a brain tumour, having a blood clot in your medical history (or family history) does not make you more at risk of TTS.
Obviously, if there is no COVID-19 in the community then the risk from the vaccine will outweigh the risk from the disease – even a tiny risk is bigger than zero.
The reason ATAGI changed its advice to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger age groups in areas of outbreak is because as soon as COVID-19 starts to spread in the community, the risk of serious disease and death skyrockets. Which makes the vaccine suddenly become a very sensible option in Sydney and other high-risk areas.
How can you get it?
If and when you decide to have the AstraZeneca vaccine and you live in NSW, you can simply book in with any place that is giving it in your area. This may be a GP or state vaccination clinic.