Vaccine unlikely to prevent transmission

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As Australia prepares for a COVID-19 vaccine rollout early next year, experts are warning that it will not stop transmission straight away and comprehensive public health measures such as social distancing, mask wearing and quarantine should be part of the response deep into 2021.

The Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS) has released a report that spells out the necessary next steps for the pandemic response in the new year.

It explains that high levels of testing and contact tracing will still be required alongside with the efficient vaccine distribution.

One of the report’s co-authors, Professor Ian Frazer from the University of Queensland, said maintaining control of the virus would require a strong suite of public health and policy measures from federal, state and territory governments.

“Reported vaccine results of 90 per cent effectiveness and above are encouraging,” Prof. Frazer said. ” But these vaccines will need an enormous effort to manufacture, transport, store and administer across Australia.

“That is going to take a lot of time – very likely, deep into 2021. If we let our guard down before that, the virus will get away from us again.

“Australia’s capacity to deliver effective public health programs, together with our world class research and innovation sector, mean that we are well placed to execute this agenda,” he said.

“Doing so successfully will also future-proof us, improving our ability to respond to other pandemics if and when they arise.”

The report explains that the vaccine may have only a limited impact on transmission and spread of the virus, and any protection may also be short-lived.

“Emerging evidence suggests that the ‘first generation’ vaccines currently in trials have a good chance of preventing SARS-CoV-2-related illness, but that they are less likely to prevent acquisition of infection with the virus,” the report explained. “This means it is unlikely that virus transmission will be significantly reduced by this first generation of vaccines.

For this reason, the AAHMS review suggests that Australia needs a multi-pronged approach to the virus for 2021, which includes the ongoing public health measures that many have become accustomed to this year.

These include high levels of testing combined with contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, social distancing and mask wearing.

Faster and more accessible testing will also be critical to the response in 2021, with the speed of reporting a key factor in keeping a lid on COVID-19 transmission.

The report also points out the importance of monitoring for variants in the virus, which is timely given parts of the United Kingdom are reporting a new variant which is spreading faster.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock said at least 60 different local authorities had recorded COVID infections caused by the new variant and the World Health Organization was notified.

“We’ve currently identified over 1000 cases with this variant, predominantly in the south of England, although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas,” Mr Hancock told the House of Commons.

Were you expecting life to return to normal once the vaccine was rolled out? Are you worried about new variants of the virus that may be resistant to the vaccine?

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Written by Ben

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