Brett Sutton
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton (Image: AAP/James Ross)

The chorus of health experts calling on Australia to open its borders is growing by the day. Dr Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s former deputy chief medical officer, criticised the notion that Australia could eliminate the virus. Then Professor Brett Sutton, Victoria’s adored CMO, suggested that Australians get vaccinated so the country could reopen to international arrivals to boost education and tourism industries and allow family reunions.

Add to that Greg Dore, one of Australia’s most respected infectious disease experts, saying last week: “If Australia wants to avoid being left behind, the pathway to opening up will require some risk. The first ‘precautionary principle’ to be dropped must be interstate border closures with less than a handful of cases. International travel should be considered for those fully vaccinated, with more limited home quarantine on return.”

Dore’s views were reiterated by another of Australia’s leading infectious disease experts, Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University.

And US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said last week that for vaccinated people, “the risk is extremely low of getting infected, of getting sick or of transmitting it to anyone else. Full stop.”

Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then recommended that mask mandates for vaccinated Americans can be dropped — only 37% of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

So four of Australia’s leading health experts and Fauci all say the same thing: vaccinate and open.

Those continuing to demand borders remain shut until mid-2022 or later are left with three excuses: alleged mutant virus strains; lower effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine (AZ); a lack of herd immunity.

Critics of AZ continue to be quickly disproved by actual life data. Last week reported results from Italy indicated that the AZ vaccine is 99% effective against hospitalisation and 100% effective against death. Meanwhile the UK has reduced deaths by 99% largely using AZ, despite several so-called mutant strains circulating in regional centres like Bolton.

That leaves the increasing unwillingness of (especially older) Australians to get vaccinated. This has been partially caused by Health Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming vaccination itself wouldn’t necessarily allow additional freedoms like the ability to travel.

That hesitancy can be quickly reduced if the government sets a firm and realistic date for reopening borders once adults have had the opportunity to be vaccinated (a suitable date could be January 1, 2022, almost two years since the start of the pandemic). Bear in mind that target is conservative — Australia could reach US vaccination levels by October if it administers 100,000 shots day.

Those who don’t want to get vaccinated on the basis of COVID being a hoax or vaccines being a way to implement 5G chips into their bloodstreams can bear the minimal risks. The alternative is Australia effectively being held hostage by anti-vaxxers.

Setting a vaccination target without a date creates a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: there’s no reason for people to be vaccinated without any benefit, and the benefit doesn’t materialise until people get vaccinated.

The government’s primary job is to listen to the experts to safely open borders to allow for families to be reunited, tourism to restart and crucially (but rarely mentioned) our humanitarian refugee intake to resume — not to ride a wave of manufactured vaccine hesitancy and fear in order to win an election.

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