Experts say Morrison’s 80 per cent vaccine plan could put 30,000 lives at risk

New modelling has found at least 90 per cent of all Australians, including children, should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the country can open up safely.

Aug 24, 2021, updated Aug 24, 2021
ANU's Professor Quentin Grafton has warned that fatalities could reach 27,000 if restrictions are lifted too quickly (Photo: ABC).

ANU's Professor Quentin Grafton has warned that fatalities could reach 27,000 if restrictions are lifted too quickly (Photo: ABC).

The third wave, driven by the more infectious Delta strain, is taking hold in younger and unvaccinated age groups.

Little is known about the impact of so-called “long COVID” on children, which sees the virus cause damage to the lungs, heart and brain for months after recovery.

Research released on Tuesday shows children will directly benefit from vaccination.

“If we could achieve 75 cent vaccination coverage among children and adolescents, we could prevent 12,000 hospitalisations in these age groups,” Quentin Grafton from the Australian National University said.

Some 6.9 million cases with symptoms, 154,000 hospitalisations, and 29,000 fatalities could be the result of lifting restrictions at 70 per cent adult vaccination coverage, even with a 95 per cent vaccination level for those aged 60 years and over, the research found.

Scott Morrison says Australia “has to move forward” and open up when 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“We will live with this virus like we live with other infectious diseases,” he said on Monday.

Researchers Zoe Hyde from the University of Western Australia, Tom Kompas from the University of Melbourne and Professor Grafton say the prime minister’s current national plan “puts too many lives at risk”.

“It’s simply too dangerous to treat COVID-19 like the flu,” Dr Hyde said.

Grafton said under 80 per cent vaccination coverage for only those over 16, as per the national plan, there could be 25,000 fatalities and some 270,000 cases of long COVID.

New South Wales has today reported 753 new locally-acquired COVID-19 cases, while Victoria has 50 and the ACT 30. New Zealand, which blamed a traveller from Sydney for carrying the Delta variant to the country, reported another 41 cases.

State and territory governments are pushing back against the plan that national cabinet signed off in July, before the Sydney outbreak seeped into other areas.

The national cabinet of Australian government leaders has asked the Doherty Institute to update its advice commissioned by the Morrison government, to reflect the current higher caseload.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said she wanted to see more than 80 per cent of her state vaccinated, and believed a key threshold should be the point at which vaccines are made available to all eligible Australians.

With outbreaks forcing other states and territories into lockdown, Palaszczuk said nobody wanted their government to give up on containment.

“Have a look out in Queensland at the moment,” Palaszczuk said.

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“You can go to work, you can go to school, you can go watch sport, you can go play community sport, you can go to a restaurant, you can go out. We haven’t given up.”

Palaszczuk would not speculate on the implications of reaching 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination coverage until she had read updated modelling from the Doherty Institute.

She encouraged Queenslanders to get vaccinated as soon as possible and said the next phase would involve high school students. The last outbreak in Queensland, known as the Indooroopilly cluster, spread through schools.

Morrison said negative economic and mental health impacts would outweigh benefits when 70 and 80 per cent immunisation coverage was reached.

“That’s the advice, that’s the basis for the plan. We’ve all signed up to it, we need to get on with it,” he told the Seven Network on Tuesday.

When asked about the risks and benefits, Palaszczuk agreed the lockdowns had a “big impact” on people and businesses.

“I understand that, I get that,” the Queensland Premier said.

“But the reality is we are in a pandemic and there’s probably nowhere in the world yet that has the answer to how to deal with it.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan wants new modelling given high levels of virus circulating in NSW which reported 818 new local cases on Monday.

The Doherty Institute will provide updated advice to national cabinet on Friday. Morrison said he was briefed over the weekend that higher case loads would not affect the reopening targets.

-With Sean Parnell

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