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  • John McDonnell

Vaccine reluctance is a chronic illness

There are three million doses of Astra Zeneca currently sitting unused on shelves around Australia and yet only 43 per cent of aged care workers have received the first dose of vaccine.

According to Brigid Brennan, indigenous affairs editor at the ABC, by mid-July only 20 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Sydney and Melbourne had received the first injection of anti-Covid vaccine, even though they are a priority group.

The preponderant cohort of people turning up positive in Sydney at the moment is young males between the ages of 20 and 40. The alarming statistic is that 20 per cent of this group are ending up in hospital with 30 per cent of them in intensive care.

As Norman Swan points out, if you get Covid-19 you have a 1 in 50 chance of ending up in intensive care, compared with a 1 in 30,000 chance of developing blood clots. In any event, the clots can be treated in a normal hospital environment without intensive intervention and the chances of dying from them are about 1 in a million.

This sort of evidence makes it difficult to understand the stance of the Chief Health Officer of Queensland, Dr Jeannette Young, who maintains that Astra Zeneca should not be given to people under 60, while the Delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading through Queensland.

At the moment 25 per cent of the most vulnerable group in Sydney, people over 70, are refusing to be vaccinated with Astra Zeneca. Why is this reluctance permeating Australian society?

ABC ‘s ‘Media Watch’ says that it is because of the influence of right-wing conspiracy theorists spreading ‘fake news’, but other commentators cite different reasons.

Notre Dame academic Xavier Simon, writing for ABC Online, says the mainstream media bears primary responsibility for the vilification of Astra Zeneca. He argues that the media repeatedly emphasised the clotting risk without providing any context, such as how rare the risk was or the fact that A-Z was the predominant vaccine in Germany and the United Kingdom.

The Australian newspaper’s media commentator Chris Mitchell, writing on Monday, accused the ABC and The Guardian of undermining the value of A-Z as a way of attacking Scott Morrison for a failure of vaccine strategy. The argument put by anti-government media was that Morrison should have known A-Z was going to be a dud and lined up more alternatives.

Anthony Albanese has been adopting the same course. He has been asked on 9 occasions whether he endorses the use of Astra Zeneca for people under 60 and refuses to say. His response is always that Scott Morrison should have acted faster to get more Pfizer.

Finally, the lack of clear advice supporting the use of A-Z by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), allowed the media to verbal the nuanced advice ATAGI gave to government and made it impossible for the health advisers to promote the widespread use of the vaccine. It has taken several iterations of the advice and a change of chairman to get ATAGI to make something resembling an endorsement of AstraZeneca.

The various clowns in this circus have created a public health crisis where one need not have existed. There are approximately 2 million unvaccinated people in South West and Western Sydney. They should all be vaccinated with Astra Zeneca as a matter of urgency.


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