Melbourne has plunged into a fresh round of restrictions, including mandatory mask-wearing indoors and caps on gatherings, as five new cases emerged on Tuesday.
Epidemiologists said the latest outbreak is indicative that more needs to be done to speed up the vaccine rollout. Australia is ranked 113th among the world’s countries for total doses per 100 residents, falling behind Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, even Kazakhstan, Cambodia and Seychelles, according to Our World in Data.
Professor Arthur Christopoulos, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science at Monash University, told Neos Kosmos, “As we have seen in other countries that also were doing very well like us in keeping community transmission under control, this can turn very bad very quickly – we are still in the middle of a raging global pandemic.”
He said “latest Melbourne outbreak is a perfect example of why people should be vaccinating as soon as possible”.
World-renowned researcher and immunologist Vasso Apostolopoulos, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University, said that “people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the reported side effects and it would be helpful if the government was open to other vaccines”, pointing to other vaccines around the world, such as Sinovac, Sinopharm, Sputnik, already being rolled out successfully and made differently.
“Australia should be open to them,” she said.
“There are at least 200 vaccines developed around the world which haven’t been tested on humans due to the lack of funding, which are probably even better than the ones we have available with no side effects of which 10-15 are made in Australia,” she said, including one made at her own Victoria University.
Professor Christopoulos said “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, especially when COVID is circulating in the community”.
On her part, Professor Apostolopoulos was not surprised with the news of the latest outbreak.
“There can’t be zero cases for as long as there are people coming into the country, even with hotel quarantine,” she told Neos Kosmos. “Obviously there is a problem with quarantine and we have seen that with COVID-19 it is easy for the situation to get out of control.”
She said supports the government’s decision to act immediately and impose restrictions, and doesn’t rule out further measures should more cases be confirmed.
Other leading epidemiologists are urging the government to speed up the rollout. In the latest outbreak, three Victorians over 50 at the centre of the state’s latest COVID-19 outbreak hadn’t been vaccinated despite being eigible and now there is increased pressure on the federal government to ramp up efforts.
On Wednesday morning, Acting Premier James Merlino flagged possible changes that would open up access to vaccines to more people in Victoria.
“We are looking at going beyond, or expanding, the eligibility criteria in terms of people that can get vaccinated, and we’ll be making some announcements in coming days,” Mr Merlino said, urging those who are already eligible not to delay their vaccination.
“There are millions of Victorians eligible to be vaccinated, people should not wait,” he said.