Science academy urges Australians to get inoculated following vaccine ‘confusion’

By Shannon Jenkins

January 18, 2021

John Shine

One of Australia’s top science organisations is seeking to combat misinformation and “misunderstandings” regarding the effectiveness of Australia’s chosen COVID-19 vaccines after concerns were raised over one vaccine’s ability to achieve herd immunity.

In a statement on Thursday, Australian Academy of Science president Professor John Shine said a distinction must be made between a vaccine’s effectiveness at protecting from disease versus its effectiveness at stopping transmission, noting that Australia’s current strategy aims to reduce the number of people getting very sick or dying.

While the vaccines would likely protect recipients from the worst of COVID-19, it wouldn’t stop them from becoming infected, Shine explained.

“None of the vaccines that have been approved for use have demonstrated that they can stop transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) — conclusive data is not available yet,” he said.

“Importantly, in preventing severe COVID-19 that requires hospitalisation, both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are equally effective.”

Read more: Bowen: Government should shop around on vaccines, amid AstraZeneca doubts

Last week medical experts voiced concern over the AstraZeneca vaccine after trials showed it was between 62% and 90% effective, compared to about 95% for Pfizer and Moderna.

The academy has sought to clarify this “confusion”.

“These figures represent the AstraZeneca AZD1222 and Pfizer BioNTech BTB162b vaccines’ respective effectiveness rates at protecting an infected person from developing mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms,” Shine said.

“Either vaccine is amply effective to prevent severe disease — the outcome we all fear most and the primary goal of Australia’s vaccination strategy.”

Over the weekend Norwegian officials issued a warning about the Pfizer vaccine after a number of elderly people died after being vaccinated. The Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are currently investigating the matter.

Australia is set to start rolling out the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines next month. The Australian Academy of Science has urged Australians to get vaccinated, and to get all vaccine-related information from “reputable sources” including federal and state health departments, chief medical officers, the Australian Academy for Health and Medical Sciences, and the academy’s own COVID-19 and Science of Immunisation webpages.

“Australians can be reassured that the current Australian government vaccination strategy is informed by experts and the best available science. Only science will solve this,” Shine said.

The academy has also encouraged current public health measures, including practising good hygiene, high levels of testing, contact tracing, and physical distancing to continue.

Read more: WHO warns vaccines won’t deliver herd immunity in 2021


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