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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Australia getting back to 'Covid normal'

After keeping close to 'zero Covid' for the first half of 2021, and therefore not worrying too much about the slow rollout of Covid vaccines compared to some other parts of the developed world (eg. UK, Europe, USA and Canada), the two most populous states (NSW and VIC) suffered a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases in the past couple of months due to the more contagious 'delta' variant getting loose in the general population.

Fortunately relatively strict 'lock-down' provisions have managed to keep the daily infection numbers (and hence the rate of hospitalisations and deaths) reasonably low while the vaccination roll-out ramped up with a new sense of urgency (and some extra supplies of Pfizer vaccine for the younger cohorts where side-effects from AZ vaccine were more likely to outweigh the benefit of vaccination - at least until the chance of catching Covid increased dramatically).

At the start of the latest outbreak there was a media outcry regarding the slow pace of vaccination in Australia compared to European countries and US states. For example on 'Planet America' a few weeks ago they were comparing Australian vaccination rates to those in the US, and our most vaccinated states (NSW, VIC  and ACT) would have been close to the very bottom of the ranking of US states.

But there has been a remarkable decrease in 'vaccine hesitancy' in NSW and VIC (and the ACT) as the delta variant saw daily cases climb into the hundreds (in NSW and VIC) and a daily death toll which included some younger age groups.

We have now reached the stage that NSW and VIC have a greater percentage of their adult population having had their first vaccination that any of the US states (85.7% 'first dose' in NSW, 77.9% 'first dose' in Victoria, compared with 77.5% having at least one dose in the most vaccinated US state, Vermont), and even in terms of being fully vaccinated NSW is already on par with the 12th most fully vaccinated US States (60.45% in NSW, 60.40% in Washington State). and Victoria is on par with the 40th most fully vaccinated US State (47.72% in Victoria, 47.60% in Missouri).

Within a couple of weeks both NSW and Victoria will have a greater percentage of their adult population fully vaccinated than any state in the US, and current 'lock-down' restrictions will be eased substantially by mid-October, and back to 'Covid normal' by mid-November.

Based on current rates of vaccination, both Sydney and Melbourne (and Canberra) could see 90%+ of the adult population fully vaccinated by Christmas. It seems unlikely that any state in the US will end up with much more than 80% fully vaccinated - probably due to a combination of cost (vaccination is completely free in Australia) and the natural 'vaccination hesitancy' rates being amplified by politically inspired 'anti-vaxxer' movements being more prevalent in the US than in Australia.

While there have been a few snafus in Australia's handling of the pandemic (such as the early outbreaks in aged care facilities and cruise ships, and the latter delta variant outbreaks that managed to spread from quarantined international travelers into the general population), and some false economy regarding initial vaccine order quantities (in hind-sight, ordering enough of every prospective vaccine for the entire Australian population and then donating the surplus as foreign aid would have been a lot more cost effective than ordering smaller quantities of several vaccine offerings spread over a longer time frame, given the huge economic cost of protracted 'lock-downs') our handling of the pandemic overall seems to have been reasonably effective (probably made a lot easier being an island continent). The ultimate final per capita death toll from Covid-19 in Australia will probably end up being one of the lowest in any of the OECD countries.

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