Public Health Association Australia
Since the arrival of COVID-19 on our shores nearly 13 months ago, Australia can take enormous pride in its world class response to the pandemic. In every measure, from our overall case numbers, to lives lost, to the impact on our way of life, the position here remains the envy of the world.
This has only been possible through a remarkable nation-wide effort; from our political leaders, public health experts and workers, health professionals, frontline staff, those supporting the hotel quarantine systems – the list goes on.
Perhaps the biggest unsung heroes of our pandemic response, however, are those everyday Aussies who have made considerable sacrifices; at work, at home and at play, to keep us all safe and a long way away from the disasters that have sadly beset so many other nations over the past year.
With only a few exceptions, and despite enormous frustration at times, Australians in their millions have rallied to the cause by following the advice of our public health experts and medical professionals. Staying home when in an identified hot-spot, physically distancing and masking up when out and about, and making significant personal sacrifices when it comes to milestone events: birthdays, funerals, weddings, Christmas celebrations, etc.
As a nation, our next big challenge in the fight against COVID-19 begins next week when the first 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be administered, firstly to our most vulnerable; people in aged care, hotel quarantine workers and all others on the frontline.
Australians will get a choice in whether they get the jab or not. The PHAA strongly backs other leading health organisations and every government in Australia in encouraging all Australians to get vaccinated when their turn comes.
Australians have demonstrated they are confident in the regulatory processes for vaccines in this country. Childhood immunisation rates were at record levels of 95.09 per cent for all five-year-olds in December 2020, showing that the population trusts our health systems and regulatory authorities to deliver safe and effective vaccines. Like all vaccines rolled out in Australia, COVID-19 vaccines assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration undergo rigorous assessments and approval processes.
If we can replicate our high childhood immunisation rates during the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines and have the vast majority of Australians vaccinated in the next 12 months, we will give ourselves the best shot at reducing the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
It is also critical that Australia does its bit to help ensure vaccines are rolled out successfully in low-middle income countries. This is a global pandemic, and will only be successfully managed through global vaccination. Wealthy countries like Australia have a strong responsibility and incentive to make sure vaccines are accessible and fully utilised in poorer countries with vulnerable populations. PHAA supports the waiving of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines (a key barrier to international access) and the GAVI alliance which is committed to providing global access to COVID-19 immunisation.
We all long for a return to a ‘normal’ pre-pandemic life. While vaccinations won’t deliver that in the short to medium term, they will reduce the threat of more people getting sick or dying and are likely to reduce the need for disruptive preventive measures such as border closures and travel restrictions.
The PHAA looks to the year ahead with optimism, but cautions against complacency. Vaccinated or not, we must continue to practise COVID-safe behaviours if Australia is to remain a world leader in managing the pandemic. Every one of us has an important role to play, as we’ve done so well in responding to this crisis to date.