After yesterday’s 180-degree turn by the Queensland Chief Medical Officer, medical professionals and policymakers are being inundated with questions.
Yesterday Dr Jeannette Young flipped her previous position. She said, “We are not in a position that I need to ask young, fit, healthy people to put their health on the line by getting a vaccine that could potentially significantly harm them.”
“I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got Covid, probably wouldn’t die.”
Dr Young had said as recently as March that she was thrilled to be welcoming AstraZeneca to Queensland.
“I feel like I am constantly getting better and better news as the days go on,” Dr Young said at the time.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is a game-changer for us here in Queensland. I don’t want anyone to have any reservations about getting a certain vaccine or preferring one over the other.”
Queensland was instantly pilloried in social media as being the anti-vaxxer state. While such characterisations are somewhat unfair in a broader context, they reflect the population’s unease with the mixed messaging coming from governments and bureaucracies.
Britain is our best guide
If one Steps back and takes the example of the UK, which has vaccinated over 85% of its adult population, some points of commonality become clear. The British vaccination program has administered 25 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Given the program’s scope, the statistical results for complications through blood clotting offer a solid guide to those in Australia about to get their first shot.
The UK government puts your chances of being affected as 1/100,000 for the over 50s, also 1/100,000 for 40 – 49’s and 1/50,000 for 18 – 39s. Those with existing health conditions should consult a doctor, as that will change those odds.
Those that get vaccinated have a clear advantage in mitigating COVID. Even a single shot offers a degree of protection. In the delta variant, a single AstraZeneca dose may confer 70% protection to the recipient against hospitalisation. Pfizer is higher, with over 90% effectiveness in this category.
The question that we’re yet to answer is, were doctors recommending population cohorts wait for Pfizer, because, as in the case of 18 – 35-year-olds, the hospitalisation rate is low for those contracting COVID, or are they merely acting out of a more general caution?
Like the US, Canada and the UK, Australia has competing state governments that can cause messaging to be fragmented and confusing. The advantage of, say, a country like Singapore is that they are a one government state with a single unified message.
Living with COVID
Business leaders remain concerned with the direction of government policy. The overall tone of the debate is shifting to ask how we can live with these viruses instead of driving down outbreaks via lockdowns.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce (VCC) has been expectedly vociferous in its demands to end lockdown insanity. Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra has said, “The Victorian Chamber is advocating for business to have a greater say and certainty going forward and wants to see the State Government consult on a detailed plan on how it manages COVID-19, including a warning system with triggers and thresholds and the appropriate response.”
Dr Young would undoubtedly argue that, like a poker player, she has the right to change her bet as new cards are dealt. The problem for Queenslanders and the wider population is that she’s changing her bets not on what is dealt next but what might be dealt multiple hands from now.