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Vaccinations: don’t be that person

Don’t be that person. Would vaccines have saved Melbourne from this very concerning outbreak? Quite possibly. So don’t be that person who says they’re going to ‘just wait and see what happens’ By Professor Nathan Grills, University of Melbourne. (This article was published in Pursuit).

Victoria is back in lockdown. Would vaccines have saved Melbourne from this concerning outbreak? Quite possibly. But, despite being eligible, it seems a number of people in the chain of transmission weren’t vaccinated.

If they had been, then there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have been infected – thus breaking the chain of transmission.

Are they to blame? In public health, we tend to blame structures rather than individuals. But maybe it’s time to apportion some blame to some people – especially if it encourages others to get vaccinated.

Every person who refuses a vaccine, and then gets COVID, should know they are partly responsible for our lockdowns, our mental health crisis, the mass social disruption and the economic ruin faced by many.

Indeed, every Victorian who is eligible for a COVID jab should be asking themselves, ‘why haven’t I been vaccinated?’

Quite possibly, vaccine shortages made booking a jab difficult. In that case, the government – federal and state – takes some of the blame.

Since January, those of us in public health have been warning of a next wave and pushing the government to scale it up, fast. But the rollout has been anything but quick, and Australia ranks 101st in the world in terms of vaccine doses delivered per capita.

Worse still, these delays have allowed a vaccine hesitancy to grow – fuelled by the media over-emphasising rare side effects associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But it’s not only the government’s fault. Mass vaccination centres around Victoria and the country have been empty. Eligible Victorians have been snubbing vaccines for whatever reason.

So, now that we’re facing another wave of coronavirus, it’s time to ask yourself if your logic holds water.

I’ve been jabbed. Why? Because from a scientific, evidence-based and public health point-of-view there is zero reason for delaying.

Do vaccines work? Yes, incontrovertibly.

Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer are effective at reducing infection and highly effective at preventing death from COVID-19.

I work with healthcare across India and very few healthcare workers have become critically ill or died from COVID-19. Why? Because India did a good job vaccinating millions of these workers with AstraZeneca before the most recent wave.

In our network, out of 13,000 frontline workers who were vaccinated not one has become critically ill – despite many being in contact with COVID patients.

And it’s this same strain from India that’s spreading rapidly in Victoria. It’s so encouraging to have the evidence that AstraZeneca and Pfizer are effective against this variant.

Are these vaccines dangerous? I was sitting in a coffee shop writing this article (before lockdown) and listening to some of the conversations around me. It seems everyone was talking about whether to vax or not to vax.

Some re-iterated concerns about safety, but there is absolutely no medical reason not to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca (over 50) and Pfizer under 50. And little religious or theological reason either. Even the Vatican, a very conservative institution by nature, has said there is no reason why a person shouldn’t get vaccinated.

Others in the coffee shop were suggesting waiting and seeing what happens. But what exactly are they waiting to see?

More than 1.8 billion vaccine doses have been given globally – with very few serious side effects. We also have decades of experience with similar vaccines and most of us have had upwards of 20 vaccines by the time we turn 20.

Ultimately, I think the “wait and see” argument is selfish.

As a public health professional and a Christian, I believe in promoting the common good – the public health. And when more of us are vaccinated, the vulnerable will be protected, families will be reunited, lives will be saved and livelihoods maintained.

In the face of this pandemic, with very safe and highly effective vaccines, it’s time to ask that friend – why aren’t you vaccinated? Otherwise, we will be asking a friend sick with COVID the same question.

Or worse we will be asking questions of their families – at funerals.

Does this sound alarmist? Well, I have worked in India. I’ve had to ask my staff why friends who died weren’t vaccinated. Sometimes it was lack of access, but in more than one case it was because a ‘friend’ told them not to get AstraZeneca.

Don’t be that person who encourages a friend, or a close relative to wait. Don’t contribute to the misinformation out there or, worse still, find yourself responsible for an avoidable death. A non-vaccinated person who dies from COVID-19 would have had a 98 per cent chance of surviving if they’d ignored misguided advice and followed public health advice to get immunised with a safe and highly effective vaccine.

Don’t be that friend. Don’t be that relative. Get vaccinated and encourage others to do likewise. Save lives, protect your families and let’s get back to living life.

A version of this article was published in the Herald Sun.


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