Vaccine hesitancy could lead to thousands of deaths if virus was ‘left to run’



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Almost 5000 people could die from Covid without public health measures, research says. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian CurrieSource:News Corp Australia

Almost 5000 Victorians could die from Covid-19 in just 12 months if the virus is “left to run” without a public health response, new modelling has revealed.

Experts say the research, developed by the Burnet Institute, has highlighted the need to preserve public health measures as a key line of defence against coronavirus even with high vaccination coverage.

The COVASIM mathematical modelling also suggested Australia was unlikely to achieve herd immunity with current levels of vaccine hesitancy and the higher infectiousness of new variants.

Burnet Institute head of modelling Nick Scott said public health measures, such as lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and the use of QR codes, would need to continue to prevent deaths.

“Without herd immunity, if we stopped taking a public health approach and allowed the virus to spread, it is likely to infect a large proportion of the community,” Dr Scott said.

“Those who are vaccinated would be protected and may only experience mild or no symptoms.

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Health experts are urging people to get vaccinated. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis AscuiSource:News Corp Australia

“But among those not vaccinated – possibly up to 30 per cent of the community – we could see a large number of hospitalisations and deaths as well as many cases of ‘long Covid’.”

The modelling presented scenarios projecting coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths one year after new infections enter the community, even with a vaccinated population.

One scenario created by Dr Scott and his team assumed a 50 per cent vaccine efficacy in preventing infections and a 93 per cent efficacy at preventing deaths among people who did become infected.

That would make it a virus that was 1.5 times as infectious as the one in Victoria between June and November 2020 and where 80 per cent of people aged over 60 and 70 per cent of people aged younger than 60 were eventually vaccinated.

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Aged care and disability care workers line up for their vaccine at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian CurrieSource:News Corp Australia

“We found that if the virus enters the community when 60 per cent vaccine coverage has been reached and is left unchecked, we could see 4885 deaths in Victoria within a year if no public health responses are introduced,” Dr Scott said.

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“If we get peak vaccination coverage up to 95 per cent, the number of deaths reduces to 1346.”

The modelling showed that if vaccine efficacy against infection was 75 per cent, with the same parameters in the scenario described, the number of deaths after one year could be less than 1000.

But if the virus was more infectious, deaths would remain at very high levels, even if the vaccine was highly efficacious, the researchers said.


Burnet Institute deputy director and leading infectious diseases and public health specialist Margaret Hellard said the modelling was a “worst-case” scenario and showed what could happen if governments didn’t intervene and “let the virus run” even with moderate-to-high vaccine coverage.

She said with 30 per cent of Australians indicating they do not want to be vaccinated, public health measures must remain if governments want to prevent thousands of Covid-19 deaths.

“We need much higher vaccine coverage to reduce infections and severe infections,” Professor Hellard said.

“Although vaccinations might not stop every outbreak, they will reduce the likelihood of outbreaks occurring, reduce the need for quarantine and restrictions and save lives.”

The COVASIM is a model developed by Burnet Institute and Institute for Disease Modelling in the USA and provides governments with more specific and precise data to inform their Covid-19 responses.

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