Australian target to reach herd immunity by close of 2021 unlikely

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday June 2, 2021

(Image: Adobe: Наталья Устинова)

Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccine uptick is still not enough to meet the federal budget’s revised target of completing its vaccination rollout by the end of the year, according to strategy firm Provocate.

Provocate managing director Troy Bilsborough suggested that the rate of jabs in arms of eligible Australians for the COVID-19 vaccine has been inconsistent, with Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine uptake in May swinging from record numbers of 100,000 vaccines per day to some days as low as 10,000 jabs administered.

For this reason, Bilsborough predicted that it was unlikely most of the nation would be vaccinated according to the federal budget’s end of 2021 target.

“Until Australia is consistently averaging at least one million jabs in arms per week, every week, then business should plan for a vaccine rollout completion closer to 2023 than 2021,” he said.

Bilsborough also said that Australia was likely to fall short of its COVID-19 vaccination budget target, despite the fact that a recent virus outbreak in Victoria has seen more citizens roll up their sleeves for a jab towards the end of May and early June. 

He argued that the lift in vaccination rates were still only half of the 200,000 daily doses that must be administered to complete Australia’s rollout by the end of 2021.

“We remain concerned that the daily boost in COVID-19 immunisations driven by Victorian lockdown fear will only be temporary unless governments can harness this lapse in vaccine hesitancy to their advantage.

“The current ‘grass is greener’ message around an end of year vaccination boost is the single biggest risk to Australia’s vaccine rollout right now and will only increase as federal election pressure mounts,” he said. 

Bilsborough, who was also a former adviser to a federal health minister, said Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine program has been beleaguered with one of the slowest start dates and lowest vaccination rates compared to all other G20 nations. 

As reflected in Provocate’s analysis of the country’s May vaccination uptake, the sluggish approach has seen Australia slip five places compared with 14 other nations that the Department of Health benchmarks vaccination rates against. 

According to the company’s data analysis, the COVID-19 vaccination programs of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the EU programs pulled ahead of Australia’s last month.

“Australia’s lagging rate of vaccination at home is having a significant impact on its global standing, as well as the risk of market share losses to competitor countries that reopen faster,” Bilsborough said.

Even the performance of COVID-19 vaccine programs in lower ranked countries such as in South Korea, Canada and Japan, experienced double the pace of growth of Australia’s during the third month of their rollout. In May Australia’s average daily vaccination rate increased from 10,000 to 58,000 jabs.

Commenting on the federal government’s position regarding how many Australian citizens it needed to be completely vaccinated before the country had reached herd immunity, Bilsborough said the ‘gold standard for infectious diseases’ was for 95% of the population to be completely vaccinated. But no definitive target for herd immunity has been announced by the government.

In the US the herd immunity target was recently raised to 90% of the population vaccinated. The target there had initially been set to 70% or more.

“Unless Australia can strike a deal with a close ally like the US or UK to loan it urgent vaccine surplus between now and October, the only way for Australia to get back on track is collectively convince itself to accept and administer its current vaccine stocks and actively reduce promises of safer batches to come,” Bilsborough added.

Provocate estimates that Australia needs about 13 million additional vaccinations to reach the top rate of herd immunity (95%).

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