Australia has jettisoned its vaccination goals, fearful of clotting risks of the AstraZeneca shot, and now says they could keep borders closed even after everyone in the country has eventually been vaccinated. Their risk-reward calculus is different than most of the world’s, and having kept Covid-19 largely under control they’re desperately afraid of any misstep no matter the cost.
The U.S. Is Being Cautious With Vaccines – Maybe Too Cautious
Here in the U.S. we’ve paused administering the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine after reports of blood clots in six patients (one of whom died). We don’t know yet whether the clots are directly related to the vaccine. They’re rare, but “six out of seven million doses” likely underestimates the risk,
- There are probably more than 6 cases, that’s all that were initially reported
- Since the clots may not manifest for a couple of weeks, it’s really 6 out of closer to 3 million doses (the number administered as of two weeks ago)
- And the denominator perhaps should be greater, limited to the vaccinated population two weeks ago of women under age 55
And heparin, which is a common treatment for clotting, could make matters worse. So we want to have better treatment guidance for rare occurrences. Still, the risk of death is very low, less than one in a million. Put another way, if the entire adult population of the U.S. were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson far fewer people would die from it than died of Covid-19 on Monday. The FDA has now sadly signaled that vaccines may be unsafe.
Australia’s Vaccine Caution Makes More Sense Because Covid-19 Is Less Of A Risk
The calculus is different in Australia, which has paused administering the AstraZeneca shot over clotting concerns. Both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use similar viral vector technologies. They have a stronger argument for pause than the U.S. does based on math. When weighing the risks, they don’t have many Covid-19 death in the past six months to consider.
- The entire country of Australia is identifying an average of 10 cases of Covid-19 per day right now.
- Fewer than 1000 people have died there since the start of the pandemic
- Just 5 Covid-19 deaths recorded since October.
Australia is largely going about its life domestically. Last summer there was a Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne after a quarantine guard had sex with an arriving passenger and brought the virus out into the population. But they’re passed lockdowns and internal border restrictions are not as onerous as they were. People gather maskless.
Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, Sydney
Vaccination Was Supposed To Allow Australia To Re-Open
What Australians cannot do is leave the country (except for visits to New Zealand). Foreigners cannot visit. And there are still citizens stuck abroad because of limits on the number who can return each day for government quarantine.
It seemed like vaccination was the answer, that Australia would re-open its borders once everyone had an opportunity to get vaccinated. Jettisoning AstraZeneca for those under 50, which they were relying on for the bulk of vaccinations, has meant likely giving up on being able to offer at least one shot to each Australian by year’s end. They’ve doubled their order of Pfizer from 20 million to 40 million doses.
Australia’s Government Says Vaccines May Not Be Enough
Australia’s health minister now says vaccinating the entire population may not be enough to re-open borders, which seems insane. (HT: Marginal Revolution)
Health Minister Greg Hunt has refused to guarantee Australia’s borders will open even if the whole country has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia’s borders have been shut since March 2020 and will remain closed until at least the middle of June, leaving more than 36,000 Australians trapped overseas, unable to return due to caps on the number of quarantine spaces.
…Mr Hunt suggested at a news conference in Canberra on Tuesday the international border closures could last much longer and stay in place even if the entire population had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
…“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Mr Hunt said. “If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.” “We still have to look at a series of different factors: transmission, longevity [of vaccine protection] and the global impact – and those are factors which the world is learning about,” he said.
Australia Kept Out Covid But Is Losing At Re-Opening
The risk calculation is very different in Australia than much of the world. They aren’t facing health risks from Covid-19 currently, so they’re reluctant to use a vaccine that might have some risk and might cause as many deaths as Covid-19 is currently causing. And nearly the entire population remains vulnerable to the virus, so they’ve very concerned about letting it in.
This extreme caution makes some sense given the strategy they’ve pursued as an island country where the virus didn’t spread rapidly early on and was able to be contained. That conservatism though has leaked out into such a reluctance to make a mistake that they’re afraid to re-open borders even after vaccinating everyone. And other countries like South Korea have managed similar outcomes to Australia without the same level of travel restriction.
Could there be mutations that escape vaccines? And could Australia have difficulty securing booster doses should protection wane? Absolutely. But then they should be securing those additional doses now – ordering 100 million doses, not just 40 million – because the cost of keeping their borders closed is greater than the billion dollars booster doses that could wind up not needed would cost.