New details of the promising Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine signal hope for 2021 … but experts insist COVID-19 will never be completely wiped out.
Griffith University immunologist Professor Nigel McMillan said the news was a positive step on the road to normality, but while vaccination would halt deaths associated with the virus, it was important people understood COVID-19 was here to stay.
“This is not going to be a situation where the vaccine will eliminate the virus,” he said.
“We have only ever eliminated two viruses on this planet (smallpox and rinderpest).
“The deaths can be vastly reduced…. but we will never be rid of it, just as measles is still with us.”
He believes once vaccination coverage in the old and vulnerable was above 80 per cent, most of the deaths would stop, but cited flu vaccination rates – less than 50 per cent for adults, although better above age 65 – as reasons that transmission among the rest of the population would continue.
“We need at least 75 per cent of adults vaccinated against the flu for herd immunity, so we never get there,” Professor McMillan said.
“To stop COVID-19 circulating and get herd immunity, the models vary from 60 to 90 per cent.
“For COVID-19, if we vaccinate the elderly, we stop most of the deaths.
“Then the virus can just circulate the community like the flu does now.
“Unless we get really high coverage, we won’t eliminate it, but we don’t actually have to.”
The Griffith Health expert said the elderly should receive the vaccination first due to their increased mortality rate, followed by frontline health workers, carers and other high exposure risk groups like quarantine workers and clinical lab workers who work with the virus or samples.
Those with co-morbidities like diabetes would be next, then finally the rest of the population.
Professor McMillan said once there was a vaccine that passed all necessary trials and had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association, distribution could start quite rapidly.
“It depends on a few factors really, to how much they are making, how fast they are making it and where it goes, but distribution could start within a few weeks of approval,” he said.
Australia has entered into five separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines however Professor McMillan said while Australia is guaranteed the vaccines it has signed up for, the way various countries are to be prioritised is not yet clear.
More good news may be on the horizon for those with itchy feet, with the prospect of international travel back on the cards, albeit with talk of a vaccination passport.
“I think travel could return to normal if you are vaccinated,” Professor McMillan said.
“In a post-COVID-19 world, I would imagine all incoming visitors need to be vaccinated and most countries will require this.”