• Rikki Lambert

Time to live with COVID-19? Academics opposite on the topic and the globe

Is it time for Australia to accept we have to live with COVID-19? Great Britain's experience with higher vaccination rates and yet the Delta variant spreading in their community has seen Oxford academics say Britain might have to.

The Telegraph in the United Kingdom reports that scientists say it is time to accept there is no way of stopping the virus variant spreading through the entire population.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who led the Oxford University vaccine team, said it was clear that the Delta variant can still infect people who have been vaccinated, which made herd immunity impossible to reach, even with the UK’s high uptake.

Over 75 per cent of Briton adults have received both vaccination doses, staving off an estimated 60,000 deaths and 66,900 hospitalisations.

However, experts say COVID-19 will keep spreading.

Speaking to the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, Sir Andrew said:

“Anyone who is still unvaccinated will, at some point, meet the virus.
“We don’t have anything that will stop transmission, so I think we are in a situation where herd immunity is not a possibility, and I suspect the virus will throw up a new variant that is even better at infecting vaccinated individuals.”

On the opposite side of the globe with approximately 20 per cent of the Australian population vaccinated, antipodean academics at the University of Melbourne released their own research on Monday indicating that elimination of the virus - not the suppression of its spread - was the preferable approach when all scenarios from a health-only to health-and-economy approach was considered:

"Firstly, if you only consider the costs to the health system, elimination was the clear policy winner. This was unsurprising.
"Any strategy that keeps the virus levels low will minimise SARS-CoV-2 morbidity and mortality, as well as health expenditure.
"However – and this is where it starts to get more interesting – even when we allowed for the unintended consequences of lockdowns – like the worsening depression and anxiety and the reduction in road traffic injuries – they largely cancel each other out meaning elimination still won out.
"... on balance, an elimination strategy is preferred when considering health loss and costs – both health system expenditure and GDP loss.

The Melburnian authors accept however that the situation might be out of Australia's hands:

"The best approach to Delta, if global eradication proves impossible, will tip from elimination toward suppression at high levels of vaccination coverage."

Analysis by Public Health England has shown that when vaccinated people catch the virus, they have a similar viral load to unvaccinated individuals, and may be as infectious.

Paul Hunter, a professor at the University of East Anglia and an expert in infectious diseases, told the committee:

“The concept of herd immunity is unachievable because we know the infection will spread in unvaccinated populations, and the latest data is suggesting that two doses is probably only 50 per cent protective against infection.
“We need to move away from reporting infections to actually reporting the number of people who are ill. Otherwise we are going to be frightening ourselves with very high numbers that don’t translate into disease burden.”

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