With each lockdown it becomes increasingly clear how vulnerable we are. No quarantine system is perfect – no one can guarantee that the virus will stay out. We’ve had a leak every two to three weeks and we can continue to do that. We’ve been lucky that most of them haven’t led to a full-blown outbreak, but the jury is still out. Victorians are suffering now – but any state could be next.
What makes this frustrating is that the world invented a silver bullet 15 months ago. Other countries waited cautiously until nine months later to roll out vaccines. We dragged our feet, inexplicably, for another two months, by the time they had already rolled out millions. That two-month delay was fruitless. Now that we have finally started, we have outperformed even the slow European Union. At our current pace, we won’t be ready until the end of next year at the earliest.
This was a choice, one that should never be forgotten. But today, as the virus spreads throughout Victoria, our focus must be on how to get out of this mess. Until now, the government has blamed the supply – even though you can only get vaccines if you actually sign contracts for them. But if we take the government at its word that sufficient supplies will not be available until October, then there are only four months left. After that, malfunctions can definitively no longer be attributed to the delivery.
If we vaccinated five in six adults by the end of the year, as requested by NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian, we would more than triple our current rate and significantly increase even the highest rates the US, UK and EU have reached. exceed. That would be a big lift. But this country is capable of incredible things when the situation calls for it. And the early promise of massive vaccination hubs and the impending rollout to pharmacies is sowing seeds of optimism on the distribution front.
While supplies are already plentiful (the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine is almost exclusively for the poor of the over-50s), the rollout remains slow due to a lack of demand. That’s a problem we need to solve right away. Of great importance is the possibility that all those tens of millions of doses due in the fourth quarter, on which all our hopes are pinned, will be met with the same lackluster reception. The government absolutely cannot allow that to happen.
In any case, they can’t wait until October to take action. The first and most obvious incentive is a clear schedule for reopening borders. People need to know that the border will open again, and soon – if we all do the right thing and get vaccinated. This means announcing a fixed end point for our international border closure depending on the number of people vaccinated. And it won’t all happen at once. The cabinet must indicate exactly how the phased reopening will take place.
Given that, uniquely in our history, we have a former marketing director as prime minister, it’s surprising how lackluster our vaccine marketing efforts have been thus far. A new campaign, launching in July and targeting those under 40, should be a major improvement over the existing over-50s ads, which can best be described as dull. How about a wall-to-wall campaign with Lara Worthington (nee Bingle) for a mass vaccination hub screaming, “So where the hell are you?”
There are all kinds of other incentives that we should try. Ohio’s vaccine lottery is a good idea. Let’s supercharge it. We could hold an overnight draw of $1 million – peanuts relative to the social benefit of broad vaccination coverage. How about a free Uber for every appointment? A vaccine passport — for within and between states, and internationally — is another powerful option. The opportunity to be exempt from lockdowns, border closures and mask mandates would be a powerful incentive for many.