The onset of the pandemic was a shock to all of us. Worse still we had no vaccines that would work against the Covid virus. Australia, being an island had one large advantage in that it could easily close its international boarders and we did. Then it was a question of managing the virus until a vaccine arrived. Morrison has been criticized for choosing to disproportionately back Astra Zeneca. He should not have been as Australia had the capacity to manufacture that vaccine.
Trouble only really began to kick in when Pfizer proved to be slightly better. There is nothing wrong with second best when that is still a very good and effective vaccine. However by now the virus was well under control and our political leaders had fallen enthral to medical experts. These experts did precisely what one would expect of them and what they ought have done: they gave what they considered to be the best medical advice. Many in the citizenry did precisely what one would expect of them. They decided that given the very low instance of covid in the community they would wait for the number 1 vaccine -Pfizer. We were all caught in an exceptionally counter-productive holding pattern.
In a medical emergency such as Covid the Government clearly has a duty to seek advice from medical experts but it also has a duty to consider other impacts (eg psychiatric, educational and business) as well. We elect our political leaders to make decisions for the nation as a whole not to simply outsource all complex problems. Very few large policy issues have outcomes contained solely within a narrow band. This is why we have elected governments: to look at the impacts of different policies on a range of stakeholders and undertake the (admittedly difficult) task of deciding which path to take. If all important decisions are to be outsourced to ‘experts’ then what role is there for our elected representatives? `
The Delta strain is now out of control in NSW and Victoria and Queensland are already in lockdown. Finally reality may be impacting on this expert induced paralysis . Fear, (and maybe FOMO too) are now propelling the un-vaccinated to sign up for a shot. The serious impacts of protracted lockdowns on mental health, small business and school closure are getting more attention.. Morrison seems to have regained his mojo.
What we now need are more incentives to get vaccinated. And we need to move on from the ideal that 70 or 80% of the population must be vaccinated before any vaccinated individual can enjoy an increase in liberty. Equity and efficiency do not even usually come locked in tandem. In a pandemic efficiency needs to take precedence if the final goal of virus suppression is to be achieved.
There will rightly be no compulsory vaccination for Covid in Australia. However Morrison has now announced that individual business owners may decide whether vaccination will be a condition of employment. And organizations will be given the freedom to insist that customers/clients have a valid vaccine passport. These measures can be introduced now and will provide salvation for many in the hospitality industry and other small businesses.
The other obvious area to introduce individually targeted incentives is travel and tourism. Qantas is already on track to require vaccination of staff and passengers. Some states will be more resistant than others but fully vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel freely within Australia. Australians should also be able to travel internationally and upon return be able to home quarantine if they are carrying any viral load. These rewards should cut in as soon as the individual is fully vaccinated.
Finally there needs to be a targeted and hard-hitting campaign setting out the relative risks of the Covid vaccines compared to the risks associated with Covid infection, the contraceptive pill, other non-covid vaccines, driving a car, and the mental health consequences of lockdown.
And Professor Peter Doherty describing the effects of a serious Covid infection on the human body accompanied by graphic visuals during prime-time commercial television would be sure to move more than a few of the vaccine hesitant over the line. Effective incentives are needed and will be applauded but there is a lot to be said too for fear as an appropriate driver of behaviour in a time of crisis.
Dr Elizabeth Prior Jonson
Views expressed here
are in no way indicative those
of the author’s institution
Fully vaccinated with Astra Zenica
Fiona Prior finds more mysteries to fathom. More here.