‘Not all or nothing’: Australia's 'concerning' border plan criticised

·News Reporter
·3-min read

An infectious disease expert has urged the federal government to consider easing restrictions, including the nation's closed borders, ahead of achieving herd immunity and warns the population may never even reach that point.

Emma McBryde, professor of infectious diseases modelling and epidemiology at James Cook University’s Australian Institute for Tropical Health & Medicine, is among a group of experts who has worked through their own modelling out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Professor McBryde welcomed Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement of a four-stage pandemic exit plan, she believes key easing of restrictions come too late and are too reliant on high vaccine uptake. 

Sydneysiders queue for their vaccines earlier this month. Source: Getty
Experts have voiced their concern the federal government is being too cautious with opening the nation's borders as the vaccine rollout ramps up. Source: Getty

"My personal view is herd immunity is not an all-or-nothing thing," she told the ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday. 

She questioned whether Australia would be able to reach 85 per cent of Australians vaccinated to even achieve herd immunity, a task made more difficult by the highly-infectious Delta variant.

And while the availability of the Pfizer jab to under 40s has been well publicised in the last week, Prof McBryde believes a focus on 20 to 60-year-olds, the most highly transmissible group, would help Australia's cause.

She told the Australian Financial Review if 90 per cent of that age category was vaccinated, vaccine uptake could be lower in the younger and older age groups.

Graph showing Australia's vaccine rollout has administered more than 8 million jabs so far. Source: Department of Health
Australia's vaccine rollout has administered more than 8 million jabs so far. Source: Department of Health

Experts warns risk must be balanced appropriately

But she said even without herd immunity, vaccinated people are protected from severe disease and are much less likely to be hospitalised or die.

She said once the most vulnerable are offered the chance to be vaccinated, opening international borders earlier than planned should be explored.

“I’m concerned that it’s highly contingent on things that might not be possible," she said.

Professor Peter McIntyre, an immunisation expert from the University of Sydney and World Health Organisation advisor, questioned whether the government should be so cautious particularly around arrivals into the country.

"Is it really necessary to reduce arrivals by 50 per cent? Wouldn't the possibility of vaccine requirements for people coming into Australia reduce the risk just as effectively?" he questioned on ABC News Breakfast.

Prof McBryde said there should be different rules for different levels of risk – a route other nations further on with their vaccine rollout were implementing.  

Pointing to the US, she noted how the nation granted greater freedom to vaccinated people.

She also warned as the risk posed by the virus diminishes with increased vaccine uptake, states must move away from "scaremongering" and use lockdowns reluctantly. 

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