Race to 80: our best shot at living with COVID

by Stephen Duckett, Danielle Wood, Brendan Coates, Will Mackey, Tom Crowley, Anika Stobart

29.07.2021 report


Australia can end lockdowns and start to reopen its border once 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated – and we may be able to get there by the end of the year.

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Grattan modelling shows that once 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated – and 95 per cent of the most vulnerable, including the over-70s – Australia can safety begin to ‘live with COVID’.

At 80 per cent, COVID would be in the community but severe cases would be rare.

Opening up too early – for example at 50 per cent, or 70 per cent — would risk rampant spread of the virus and hospitals being overwhelmed.

The bad news is that the modelling shows we cannot safely reopen Australia until we get to 80 per cent vaccinated. But the good news is that our analysis shows we can get there quickly.

Australia is scheduled to get more than enough vaccine supplies within months, and surveys show only about 10 per cent of Australians are entrenched anti-vaxxers.

Logistics will be crucial to supercharging the rollout. People should be able to get their jab at mass vaccination hubs, doctors, pharmacies, schools, their workplaces, and through pop-up clinics at supermarkets and sporting events.

Once supply arrives and everyone is eligible, governments should launch campaigns aimed at hesitant and specific populations, including young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The Federal Government should establish Vaxlotto, a national $10 million-a-week lottery – everyone who has had one jab is in, and everyone with two jabs doubles their chances.

State governments should issue ‘vaccine passports’ for domestic air travel and entry to hospitality, sports, and entertainment venues.

If necessary, vaccines should be made mandatory for people who work with vulnerable populations or in high-risk settings, including aged care workers, hospital staff, disability care workers, prison workers, and teachers.

The 80 per cent threshold could be reached as early as the end of this year if a vaccine becomes available in coming months for children under 12. But if a vaccine is not approved for children under 12, a target date of March next year would be more realistic.

Once 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated, lockdowns should become a thing of the past, and quarantine requirements should end for fully vaccinated Australian residents and some fully vaccinated international visitors.

We should then push on with vaccinations, and once 85 per cent are vaccinated, all border restations should be removed for vaccinated people.

Racing to 80 per cent and then pushing on to 85 per cent is Australia’s ticket to opening up. Failure is not an option.

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Recommendation 1: National Cabinet set a goal for 80 per cent vaccination by the end of the year, or by the end of March 2022 at
the latest if vaccination for children under 12 is delayed

National Cabinet should maintain its Zero COVID strategy until 80 per cent of all Australians have been fully vaccinated, including 95 per cent of Australians over 70 and others at high risk.

National Cabinet should commit now to achieve 80 per cent vaccine coverage by the end of the year. If a vaccine for children is not approved by November, National Cabinet should commit to achieve 80 per cent vaccine coverage by the end of March 2022, via higher vaccine coverage for adults.

Recommendation 2: National Cabinet set out a vaccine plan to reach the 80 per cent target

National Cabinet should set out a two-step vaccine plan to get to 80 per cent.

Starting immediately, the Federal Government must start to accelerate vaccinations with help from the states:

1. Make it as easy as possible to get a vaccine by expanding state vaccination hubs and opening new local outlets, including at workplaces, schools, and community centres. These should be ready by October when additional doses of Pfizer are scheduled to arrive.

2. Launch a national communications strategy. This should include a text message campaign and tailored messages for people who are vaccine hesitant people and for specific communities.

3. Prepare to vaccinate younger children. Governments should be ready to roll out vaccinations to younger children as soon as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) grants approval. If the timing of the approval is right, children should be vaccinated at school during term time.

From November, when supply problems should have been fixed and vaccines should be available for all adults:

1. Introduce a weekly $10 million lottery for vaccinated Australians.

2. Announce that from the new year people will require proof of
vaccination – a ‘vaccine passport’ – for interstate travel and entry
to certain venues.

3. Require vaccination for all aged care workers, hospital staff,
disability care workers, prison workers, and teachers, to take effect in the new year.

Recommendation 3: National Cabinet commit to a reopening plan with two steps:

National Cabinet should immediately:

  • Announce a two-step plan to reopen when we reach 80 per cent;
  • Reduce the need for lockdowns by improving hotel quarantine and urgently building purpose-built quarantine facilities.

The two steps of the reopening plan should be:

Step 1: once Australia achieves 80 per cent vaccine coverage:

  • Remove quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated Australian residents and some fully vaccinated visitors.
  • Avoid lockdowns and other obtrusive containment measures, but retain unobtrusive containment measures such as maskwearing
    and self-administered rapid antigen testing.
    • Vaccine passports should be retained to reduce spread
      in high-risk places.
    • If there is no vaccine for children under 12, primary schools and childcare centres will need to be subject to routine antigen testing, and may need to be closed temporarily if they experience an outbreak.
  • Continue vaccinating to reach 85 per cent.

Step 2: Three months after Step 1, if the higher level of 85 per
cent has been reached:

  • Remove all international border restrictions for vaccinated people.
  • Remove vaccine passports.
  • Maintain a COVID vaccination program, including booster shots as required.
  • Prepare for any vaccine-resistant COVID variants by securing advanced supplies of future vaccines (including booster shots) and improving surge capacity in the health system.

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