Australia warned it won’t achieve herd immunity unless it deals with vaccine hesitancy | Australia news

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Australia risks never achieving herd immunity to Covid-19 unless it ramps up its strategy for engaging with vaccine hesitant populations, a former health department chief and an epidemiologist have warned.

While health officials remain confident in the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, they have told Guardian Australia they are concerned that recent reports about blood clotting will not curb vaccine hesitancy rates.

Health authorities on Monday acknowledged it is “likely” that blood clots developed by a 44-year-old Victorian man last week were linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Deputy chief health officer Michael Kidd noted that his “colleagues overseas appear to be seeing one to two cases” of recipients who develop the condition per one million recipients.

“By contrast we know that the risk of death from Covid-19 remains at one to two deaths per 100 people infected,” Kidd said.

“While at this time we don’t have definitive evidence of causality, the clinical features of the case reported on Friday are consistent with what we have seen in international reports of similar cases. It is likely the case reported on Friday is related to the vaccine,” he said.

Health experts are now concerned Australia’s vaccine hesitancy rates – which were as high as 36% in mid-March (13% said they will not get any Covid-19 vaccine, 23% said they were unsure) – will remain high without early and intense targeting of hesitant groups.

Stephen Duckett, health program director at the Grattan Institute and former secretary of what is now the Department of Health, has said Australia’s efforts to engage and persuade vaccine hesitant residents needed to be greater than foreign countries because of our reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the relative risk profile of a country with no ongoing community transmission.

“The benefit for someone in Australia to get their vaccine is very different to someone in the UK, where the virus is circulating.

“… We’ve put all our eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, apart from a bit of Pfizer,” Duckett said, adding that some Australians are likely wanting to wait and see if the vaccine is linked to any long-term side effects.

Herd immunity could require 65%90% of the population to be vaccinated, Duckett said, while noting that neither the AstraZeneca nor the Pfizer vaccine have been approved for use in children.

“We just won’t reach herd immunity if those vaccine hesitancy numbers [of 36%] are correct, and there is no reason to believe they are incorrect or have decreased.”

The international border – something reliant on herd immunity – is unlikely to be reopened unless most of the hesitant population is convinced to get vaccinated, Duckett said.

As demand for the vaccine is currently higher than what the government can supply, Duckett said the issue of vaccine hesitancy has not been reflected in vaccination data, but that hesitancy could notably affect the speed of the rollout by July.

“We have a bit of time to plan for this, but this requires a strategy that we haven’t seen so far.

“It requires a different approach to the prime minister and health minister having a televised shot. It needs a campaign to be in place before July, when it will be hard to keep rates ups. I haven’t seen any evidence of this approach.

“The government’s rhetoric has been that everybody who wants a vaccine can get one. This is not good enough and this will not get us to the threshold we need to be able to reopen the international border safely,” he said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman told the Guardian “we want to vaccinate all Australians who wish to be vaccinated”, but would not provide a number for herd immunity.

Hassan Vally, an associate professor in public health and an epidemiologist with La Trobe University in Melbourne, told the Guardian that “vaccine hesitancy is being underestimated” because “surveys are not the same as actually going and getting a vaccination”.

Vally agreed we will get a “better gauge” of vaccine hesitancy once later stages of the rollout ramp up, but said “people are feeling really uncertain”.

“Australians are really responding to news stories about blood clots.”

Vally differentiated between anti-vaxxers – who he believes are about 1.5% of the hesitant population and have firm, unchangeable views about the vaccine – and the larger cohort of vaccine-hesitant Australians.

“It’s the less vulnerable who will question it more, as they perceive their risk of the vaccine as not worth the reward, which is avoiding a bad outcome from catching Covid. They’re going to be more sceptical, but they’re not philosophically opposed to the vaccine.

“They’re quite understandably uncertain and confused given all the information, and they just want what’s best for their family [and] to make the safe decision,” Vally said.

“We have to work really hard, but I think they’re reachable, they’re very responsive to good, reassuring information if they’re engaged correctly. It’s completely appropriate to want to ask questions.

“It’s a problem we’ve underestimated and one we can’t ignore now,” he said.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australia warned it won’t achieve herd immunity unless it deals with vaccine hesitancy | Australia news

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