Australia has a bit of a COVID-19 vaccine problem. We’ve currently administered 3.6 million doses at a rate of around 450,000 per week. That might sound like a lot, but remember these are two-shot vaccinations, meaning we need to give 45.2 million doses in order to have everyone in the country safe from the virus.
We’ve fallen well behind the rest of the world in terms of our vaccination rate. After a late start, with issues getting the vaccine into the country, we’ve only given 12 doses per 100 people. Israel, one of the world leaders in vaccinations, has given 120 out of 100. The UK and the US are both above 80 out of 100 and even India, a country struggling desperately with its current outbreak, has given 13.4 doses per 100 people.
The Northern Territory is sitting ahead of the rest of the country with 10 doses per 100 people. Tasmania and the ACT are both at just above 9 per 100 while NSW and QLD are languishing behind at 3.8 and 3.3 respectively.
This is due to a number of reasons including logistical difficulties, the lack of mass vaccination centres, and the growing numbers of people hesitant to receive their dose. A new term, ‘vaccine complacency’ has been making the rounds recently as those who are able to receive a vaccine haven’t yet signed up to get one.
So, what can Australia do in order to boost its numbers and get as many people as possible vaccinated?
In a sense, this seems to be the option we are leaning towards. In the US state of Ohio, governor Mike DeWine announced a US $1 million lottery would be made available to any and all Ohioans who could prove they have had at least one vaccine dose in order to boost the states lagging vaccine numbers. Since the announcement, vaccination rates have jumped 33%, with 2.7 million adults registering for the lottery.
It appears that Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has been taking note of the development. On Monday, he stated that a range of incentives, including discounts and lotteries, were “on the table”.
“I think we really do need to look for incentives, as many incentives as we can, for people to become vaccinated,” Professor Kelly said.
Qantas has confirmed that it is “considering” rewarding people with incentives, which according to Qantas Chief Customer officer, Stephanie Tully, could consist of “Qantas points, Qantas and Jetstar flight vouchers, or status credits for frequent flyers.”
Tully continued, saying that “As a large company that relies on travel to put our people and planes back to work, we’re obviously motivated to help with the national vaccine effort.”
Elsewhere in the US, the states of Maryland and New York are also running vaccine lotteries in order to boost numbers. In New Jersey, those who have had the jab are eligible for a free beer; definitely something we think would sway Aussies at home.
In Europe, Serbia is offering direct cash payments of AUD $40 to anyone who gets the vaccine before the end of May.
In China, posters offering two cartons of eggs to anyone over the age of 60 who can prove they’ve been vaccinated have been appearing and in Beijing, some shops are offering free veg, ice cream, chicken wings, and dumplings.
These are all what we would call ‘carrot’ approaches to entice people into getting the jab. There are, however, ‘stick’ incentives that would negatively impact those who don’t get the vaccine.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has previously said the airline was considering a ‘no jab, no fly’ policy when international flights resume.
It has also been reported that some pubs in Australia have been considering barring entry to those without the shot.
Because of our low rates of COVID-19 and the borders remaining shut for the time being, it’s thought that Australians just don’t have that much to motivate them to get the vaccine. The Financial Review has reported that having a fixed date for international travel would encourage people to get the vaccine, according to Australian National University senior research fellow Ralf Steinhauser.
Dr Steinhauser noted that such an approach could be accompanied by messaging stating choosing not to get the jab would mean choosing to get COVID when the borders open.
Who can get vaccinated?
Right now we are in phase 1b. Phase 1a has been completed, meaning that most frontline healthcare workers, quarantine and border staff, and aged and disability care staff have been vaccinated.
1b includes all healthcare workers, high-risk workers like emergency staff and food processing workers, people with underlying health issues and disabilities, people over the age of 70 and Indigenous people over the age of 50.
The government also seems to have sped up this timeline as people aged 50 and over have been able to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine from May 3.
However, based on our own investigations, it appears the somewhat strict guidelines are actually a little more fluid than they appear. With vaccine numbers low, and state and federal governments keen to get the doses out to anyone who wants them, family members and housemates of 1a and 1b workers can also get vaccinated.
It’s worth ringing your local health practice or vaccination centre if you’re a close contact of any of the people in the previous two categories as they might let you get the vaccine if you really want it.
Not as safe as we think
Australians have certainly become a little bit complacent when it comes to COVID. A poll last week suggested 30% of Australians would shun the jab, with 15% of adults surveyed reporting they were “not at all likely” to be vaccinated. Another 14% reported being “not very likely”.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler has said at the current rate of jabs, we won’t reach full vaccination levels until late 2022, possibly early 2023. That’s a very long time to wait for things to return to normality so speeding up the rollout is imperative.
Part of the reason we’re not rushing to get vaccinated is because of our low COVID numbers.
“When you use that UK example, when you look at how rapidly they rolled out the vaccine, the long queues to get the vaccines, they knew why, because it was right in front of them what advantage that would do for them and the communities and their families,” Professor Kelly said on Monday.
“It’s a little bit more distant for Australians because we really — other than the Victorian second wave last winter — we haven’t had that experience as is the case in almost every other country in the world.”
However, the borders will not keep us safe forever and, based on the number of slippages from hotel quarantine we’ve experienced, it’s only a matter of time until there is another outbreak.
Places like Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore know this sad fact only too well. All of these countries had similarly low rates of COVID, with few cases and few deaths. They also have low rates of vaccination.
Now though, all three are experiencing waves of COVID unlike anything they had previously, including new variants that are more infectious and potentially more deadly.
Professor Kelly reiterated on Monday that “the only way to protect the health of the Australian population is to vaccinate”.
He also said that the greatest incentive for Australians should be protecting themselves, their families and their communities, encouraging anyone worried about getting the vaccine to talk to a medical professional.
“It’s about protecting your own health, not sitting there waiting for an outbreak,” he said.
“Because once an outbreak is here, if it comes, it will be very difficult for us to roll out masses and masses of vaccines quickly. The more vaccines we can roll out now, the better a situation we’ll be in if that occurs.
“My message is very clear today: if you’re in a group that has been offered the vaccine, please do not hesitate.”