The Doherty plan underscores why COVID-19 is a ‘reality that won’t go away’

By Amber Schultz

August 5, 2021

Scott Morrison-Doherty plan
We’re going to have to live with masks, social distancing, limited venue capacity and snap lockdowns for a while. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The Doherty Institute has released its modelling showing Australia’s vaccination targets for the path out of the pandemic which has driven the national cabinet’s four-phase plan for reopening the country. But it focuses on the first two phases of Australia’s reopening plan — only modelling six months of scenarios. 

“The reason we stopped where we did was we said six months is a long time in this pandemic,” director of epidemiology at the Doherty Institute Professor Jodie McVernon said yesterday.  “COVID-19 is a reality that won’t go away.” 

No phase D and limited information on phase C

Phase C, the consolidation phase of the reopening strategy, will happen once the country hits over 80% vaccination rates for those 16 and over (64% of the population) and consists of highly targeted lockdowns only, increased border caps and lifting all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians. 

The modelling found expanding the vaccine program to the 12- to 15-year age group would have minimal impact on transmission. 

But phase C wasn’t given much attention because of the probable emergence of virus variants and waning vaccine or natural immunity, and the potential for vaccine products to enter the market. 

The impact of booster doses, or who should be prioritised to get them, is also not addressed.

No plan to allow infections to soar 

As more people get vaccinated, Australia will have to get used to seeing infection rates increase — so long as hospitalisations and deaths stay low. 

But the modelling shows there’s no plan to let infections run wild, with restrictions, quarantine and snap lockdowns when necessary here to stay to flatten the curve of infections and allow health systems to bolster their ICU capacity, workforce and supplies. 

“[It’s about] prevention rather than cure, rather than having to catch up at the other end,” McVernon said. 

“The objectives of the strategy we’re proposing by having the transition to phase B at 70% [vaccinated] with the overlaid low social measures is to be able to turn what would otherwise be a bushfire with rapid epidemic growth and high caseloads into more of a control backburn.”

She says there is a risk certain communities may be slower or more hesitant to get vaccinated, which could lead to localised restrictions in those areas and needed to be addressed through ongoing community engagement.  

Young people to become a focus

The modelling showed a “strategic shift” for vaccinating younger people who are more likely to spread the virus, bringing forward vaccinations for those aged 30 to 39 to the beginning of September, and people aged 16 to 29 to early October.

Treasury also calculated the economic impact of the vaccination scenarios modelled, showing short, sharp lockdowns and ongoing restrictions will be key to keeping costs to a minimum until vaccination rates go above 70%. 

“Immunising younger people, reducing transmission, is critical to maximising the gains of a whole population program,” McVernon said.

This article is curated from our sister publication Crikey.


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