Locked down in Victoria again!! (Just another Groundhog Day here in Melbourne – no doubt we’ll all become better people by the end). Let me hit Pause in this tale of The Year My Career Broke, for yet another unofficial COVID update. Back in Chapter 1, gentle readers, our long winter months of lockdown seemed extreme. But then finally effective. Then in Chapter 6 we saw a short, sharp February lockdown. But by then we knew the drill, and again it worked.
But as governments say, these are circuit-breakers, not solutions. And now it’s May – and again the city’s empty streets are on our nightly news. So this week in Sydney you might be out watching Hamilton – live on stage. But here I’ll be back on my sofa, drawing solace from Stan and Netflix. Nowhere near the room where it happens, as Hamilton fans might say.
An upside of the outbreak is the urgency it has sparked, in Victoria and beyond. New and virulent virus strains will keep emerging around the world and find their way here. As borders re-open, fresh outbreaks will be a clear and present risk. As the state government put it when announcing the latest lockdown, vaccination is “our only real ticket out of this pandemic.”
So – what all Australians now need to know is that this is the new new normal: a world where unless most are vaccinated here, no-one’s ever fully safe from outbreaks elsewhere. As we know, the slow pace so far of Australia’s rollout reflects many factors. (None as simple as partisans suggest: the blame-shifting and politicking around this week’s lockdown is a tedious distraction from what communities need to know, and what the media should focus on).
One factor is community hesitancy about if/when/which jabs are needed. The lack of viral spread gave us space to plan. But its flip side was few checks or filters on the spread of public apathy. At government level, too, we may have become victims of our own success at preventing the major outbreaks seen elsewhere.
Updates on the official rules and options don’t help with vaccine hesitancy. But situations evolve, so policy shifts. Offshore factors too have had their effects, on local supply and distribution shortfalls. In March we imported fewer vaccine doses as Europe redirected supply to meet production delays and infection crises closer to home. And on the home front, our 2020 plan to design and deliver 50 million “local brew” doses was shelved in December, when clinical trials at the University of Queensland showed flawed results.
No strategy can ever be perfect. As we’ve seen for a year now, shift happens. (Note to all armchair experts and blame-gamers: hindsight is so 2020.) With luck, our rollout will scale up more flexibly if people can mix and match AZ and Pfizer jabs so supply shortfalls of any type won’t delay your second jab.
Meanwhile on the public health awareness front, local critics say our government vaccination ads have hardly been seen. That in Sydney you’ll find more ads to see Hamilton than to get vaccinated. And others say that the ads we do see seem too boring to engage communities.
They have a point, so … here’s my May 2021 Melbourne Lockdown free non-expert advice on Australian vaccination rollout messaging – to inject a bit more urgency into our community uptake. The main message should be that widespread vaccination – vaxx to the max – is our magic bullet. The only path to freedom from lockdowns, border closures, risk to health and life, lives put on hold, or livelihoods lost as businesses fold.
(July update – the government plan is to get to 70-80% uptake of the adult population as soon as possible. The goal is to prevent repeated lockdowns as outbreaks occur. And avoid overloading hospitals if cases surge. Lockdowns have already imposed huge restrictions on communities, disrupted many businesses and cost lots of jobs. The Sydney/Melbourne lockdowns have an estimated economic cost of around $300m per day (say $2 billion per week/$9 billion per month). On its own, a high vaccination rate won’t guarantee an end to all such restrictions and the collateral damage they cause. But it’s a major weapon against what has happened in many other countries with uncontrolled outbreaks of the more infectious Delta strain of COVID.)
First, we need a wider range of government-endorsed ads on this, to engage the huge range of audiences that make up the Australian public. (As government agencies know, this isn’t easy at all. For a start, we have some 50 languages spoken across the country).
Second, we should hire lots of writers, performers and marketers to help make the push for vaccine uptake go a bit more viral in Australia. (Example: a performance in the style of Hamilton.)
No More (Melbourne) Lockdowns song(Apologies to Hamilton)
I am not throwin’ away my Shot
I am not throwin’ away my Shot
I’m like the State of my Nation
Wakin’ up in frustration
And I am not throwin’ away my Shot!
We’re gonna Roll-Right-Out
With this comm-unity
We’re gonna open-up our hope
Of Herd Imm-unity!
We’re gonna Boost-The-Nation
With a Wave of Vacci-Nation
And I am not throwin’ away my Shot!
We’re gonna Roll-Out (Time to take a shot!)
We’re gonna Roll-Up (Time to take a shot!)
We’re gonna Open-Up (Take a shot! Take a shot!) …
Third, whatever their style and format, the main messages need to link to current official advice (as per below). At its simplest, our longstanding message of saving lives and livelihoods could be reprised now as more jabs, more jobs (as the OECD puts it).
Fourth, we should call on all Australian agencies, media outlets, corporations etc. to promote these messages directly to their own communities and networks. We can’t have too many channels, or too many links back to official advice.
Fifth, popular programs such as the ABC’s Gruen Transfer should review vaccination messaging from around the world, and highlight their best picks for promoting uptake in Australia. For example, two weeks ago, China’s Sichuan Province released a pretty catchy rap song, Get Jabbed Quick.
Another example: four weeks ago the Singapore government released perhaps the most infectious vaccination ad yet seen. A two-minute rap performance of Get Your Shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi manages to rally, inform and entertain in equal doses. Singing in Singlish, its comedy celebrities dance and debate their way across community hesitancy, expert advice and the public benefits if more people get shots.
In France, meanwhile, it’s all about regaining freedom and life resuming.
And finally, back here in Australia, our rollout logistics need to match official messaging about what people can do, and when and how to do it. In Melbourne this week, a surge in calls to hotlines overwhelmed the booking system, with major delays and drop-outs. Lack of system readiness must have left many Melburnians (the baby boomers, at least) rewriting Rolling Stones songs in their heads to express pre-vaccination frustration.
Ah well. Whether sitting in lockdown or waiting to book your jab, there’s at least some solace for those not getting out to see Hamilton (or anything) anytime soon. Just for now, let me recommend again Chris Mann’s 2020 lockdown parody song My Corona (see Chapter 6). And his newly posted 2021 My Corona update – this time about waiting for vaccination in the US.
(Sigh) enjoy, gentle readers – and don’t throw away your shot.
Afterword – expert advice and commentary, worth reading…May/June/July 2021 commentary
Dr Jason Thompson, This lockdown is different – in a good way
Prof Nathan Grills, Don’t be that person
Prof Fiona Russell and Dr John Hart, Can I get AstraZeneca now and Pfizer later?
Prof Catherine Bennett, It’s time for Australia to drop its phased approach to the vaccine rollout
Prof Karlheinz Peter and Dr James McFadyen, How rare are blood clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Prof John Carroll, Diary of a Melburnian in our second winter of discontent
Dr Jill Newby and Dr Peter Baldwin, Lockdowns don’t get easier the more we have them. Melbourne, here are 6 tips to help you cope
Dr Kylie Quinn and Dr Jennifer Juno, How long do COVID vaccines take to start working?
Prof Nancy Baxter and Prof Tony Blakely, Why do our COVID outbreaks always seem to happen in Melbourne? Randomness and bad luck
Waleed Aly, Enough loose lockdown talk
Peter van Onselen, Ready or not, the nation will re-open
Stephen Duckett and Anika Stobart, Vaccine Rollout 2.0: Australia needs to do 3 things differently
Peter van Onselen, Coronavirus Australia: Amid the pile-on, a defence of the vaccine rollout
Lauren Gurrieri et al, Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity
Peter van Onselen, Shock death tolls spurred faster vaccination rollouts
Danielle Muscat, Julie Ayre, Kirsten McCaffery and Olivia Mac, No wonder people are confused. Most official COVID vaccine advice is way too complex
Update, 30 June 2021
With Melbourne now out of lockdown, Sydney and other parts of Australia have moved into lockdown. Our rate of population (full, both doses) vaccination on 29 June was the lowest in the OECD at 6%, along with New Zealand at 9% (see chart below).
For first-dose vaccination however, our 30 June rate looks a bit better, at 24%. But we still have a long way to go.
Update, 11 July 2021
The federal government has released a new ad, “Arm Yourself”. It’s timed to coincide with the arrival of more Pfizer vaccines. The government plans to ramp up vaccinations to one million doses a week by the end of July. Will it have the desired effect? Marketing experts suggest it misses the mark.
Update, 16 July 2021
Melbourne is in lockdown again – in parallel with Sydney’s continuing lockdown. More than any ad, the prospect of such wide lockdowns even for small outbreaks will make vaccination rollout and uptake an ongoing community priority.
Update, 24 July 2021
As lockdowns continue, public policy professor Peter van Onselen offers a perspective on vaccination rollout rates (first dose, share of total population) and deaths per million across OECD countries (chart below). His point here is: “New Zealand and Australia are the two countries that have most successfully limited the number of deaths but are also the two countries with the lowest percentage of the population to have received their first vaccine dose. South Korea comes in third for keeping deaths under control and, lo and behold, it’s also one of the worst performers at rolling out vaccines…”
Update, 31 July 2021
Australia’s National Cabinet of federal and state government ministers has agreed to new vaccination targets, which will dictate the easing of restrictions and the reopening of the nation’s economy (that is, internal and international borders). This provides detail of the 4-stage plan outlined at the start of July, with stage 4 being 80% of the over-16 population vaccinated. Expert views vary on whether this will be enough. Complete “herd immunity” looks out of reach. But “herd protection” is not: living with the virus where cases keep arising – but don’t surge out of control and overwhelm the health care system, as has happened in some other countries.
Adrian Esterman, 5 July, Australia has a new four-phase plan for a return to normality. Here’s what we know so far
Tony Blakely, 31 July, Government’s COVID-19 transition plan is actually pretty good
Danielle Wood, Stephen Duckett and Tom Crowley, 1 August 2021, National Cabinet’s plan out of COVID aims too low on vaccinations
Catherine Bennett, 4 August 2021, We need to start vaccinating people in their 20s and 30s, according to the Doherty modelling
Peter Wark, 6 August 2021, Young adults can get very sick and die from COVID too. Here’s what the data tell us
Paul Harpur and Peter Blanck, 23 August 2021, Uni students have had to be vaccinated against other diseases – COVID-19 is no different
C. Raina MacIntyre, 24 August 2021, COVID cases are rising in a highly vaccinated Israel. But it doesn’t mean Australia should ‘give up’ and live with the virus.
Andrea Fenton, 8 September 2021, Musicians are urging us to vaccinate: the federal government should learn from these moving, hopeful ads
Melbourne’s lockdown ended (briefly) on 27 July. In Sydney, lockdown continues. And now parts of Brisbane are in lockdown. For all those in isolation, I recommend tuning into Australia’s arts community recording from their homes, as featured in The Australian Review’s Isolation Room. Here’s Dami Im in Brisbane.
Update, 6 August 2021
The Victorian government announced yet another lockdown last night, for one week. As expected, lots of criticism and some street protest in Melbourne also. All I can say to those still choosing to delay or avoid vaccination for non-health reasons is: if you’re vexed to the max with lockdown, get vaxxed to the max so we can all be more free in future.
Update 20 August 2021
Lockdowns continue. There are more expert calls not to wait for Pfizer when AstraZeneca shots are available which are not “second-rate” in terms of protection and risk. Here’s Professor Catherine Bennett:
“For people aged 16 to 39 who are champing at the bit for a Pfizer vaccine, it’s important to be aware you probably won’t be able to get one the day bookings open. It may well be that you have to wait weeks for an appointment. So if you were already considering getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, or if you’ve already booked an appointment, stick with that. It’s a highly effective vaccine, the risk of any complication is incredibly small, and the benefits are significant — particularly in areas like Sydney, where we’re seeing high community transmission and young people fighting the virus in ICU…”
Here’s Professor Christine Jenkins:
“A profound wariness has developed about the AstraZeneca vaccine, an unfortunate consequence of an overemphasis in the media and public dialogue regarding the very small risk of three to five in 100,000 doses resulting in the Vaccine-Induced Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS). The actual risk of death among those who receive the AZ vaccine is even more remote at one in one million yet the AstraZeneca vaccine became labelled as second rate, an idea that should never have been allowed to thrive as it did … The vaccines work. There is about 90 per cent protection from two doses of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer in preventing hospital admission, risk of intensive care admission or death…”