Too many Greek Australians are getting sick from COVID and are missing out on COVID vaccine boosters. Professor Marinis Pirpiris PhD, the perioperative COVID expert in Victoria, is concerned.

Greeks, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities, are not all following up with boosters.

“Vaccines protect you,” he said but pointed to recent studies that suggest the Omicron BA4 and BA5 have limited vaccine protection “to about 28 days”.

As of August 10, Victoria notched over 5,000 cases of COVID infection per day adding to the total of over 34,000 active cases. There were 605 cases in hospital, 22 cases in ICU. It makes for grim reading, with 36 deaths (in the 24 hours prior to writing this) taking the tally of deaths up to 4,880 lives lost from COVID, (ABS:2022)

NSW is in a similar predicament, with 10,515 infections per day, and a total of 4,448 deaths. In the nation’s largest states, the numbers are higher in the postcodes with a higher proportion of people from a non-Anglo background.

While 96.2 per cent of all Australians have had two doses of a COVID vaccine, 71.5 per cent have had three doses and less have had their fourth.

Prof. Pirpiris said this pandemic “affects as many people as it can and has significant health consequences.”

“If you’re not up to date with your immunisations it increases your risk of infection by about five times.”

Too many in the Greek Australian community have been influenced by “disinformation which has been shared through social media platforms,” said Prof. Pirpiris.

“Some adult children and older Greeks, as a family unit, have decided that COVID needs to be viewed with scepticism.”

“The disease doesn’t select who to infect based on who is sceptical and who’s not sceptical.”

Prof. Pirpiris said that scientific communities who analyse data “form opinions based on science, not social commentary.”

A “striking feature” is that for communities that don’t speak English as their primary language “the level of booster immunizations is lower than the rest of the community.”

The data he said confirms that getting two or more infections of COVID may increase the risk of major health consequences, even for the young.

“It doubles the risk of long COVID – a long period of COVID symptoms, and health consequences, there is a significant increase in the risk of mortality and increasing your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

He is concerned about younger people in their 20s and 30s having one and more infections of COVID. Recent studies, Prof. Pirpiris said reveal harmful impacts on the brain, like diminishing cognitive function even in younger people.

“Reinfection and long COVID can have the effect of shrinkage in the grey matter of the brain – it’s not a cold and it’s not the flu.”

Prof. Trichur Vidyasagar, the Head of the Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, said that a study released in the UK science journal Nature showed a “reduction in grey matter thickness, including the orbitofrontal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and the olfactory cortex”.

Long-term effects of COVID on the brain “are not to be taken lightly, even in those with milder disease who do not need hospitalisation.”

Prof. Pirpiris said that being infected by COVID more than once increased the rate of hospitalisation by 7.5 times, and mortality risk by about 15 times.

“The Greek community really needs to protect itself from the effects of the disease.”

“We should seriously consider not going to areas where there are many people together celebrating events because of the risk; if you’re visiting someone that has underlying conditions or is aged, then think about that and protect yourself and protect them, with a mask, hand washing, or being immunised.”

“The scientific evidence is that immunisation works and those that have not had their boosters should organise that as soon as possible.”

He said that those who are “concerned about immunisation” should have a conversation with their GP.

“Ask the questions, and make an informed decision, if you decide not to immunise, then please understand the risks to your family.”

Prof. Pirpiris said that we will have to live with COVID “for a very long time.”

“COVID changes frequently, we expect that with the knowledge we gain over time, COVID should become less aggressive, and our bodies should become used to fighting it.”

New vaccines coming out soon will target the Omicron BA 4 and BA 5 variants tearing through our community.

Prof Associate Professor Marinis Pirpiris PhD, MEpi, MBBS, BMedSci, Grad Dip Epid Biostat, FRACS, is a Member, Victorian Perioperative Consultative Council, Perioperative COVID Expert Working Group, Victoria, Chair of Orthopaedics, Cabrini Hospitals Melbourne, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Epworth Hospitals Melbourne, and the President of Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association Trauma Society.