Hal Swerissen

Times are hard in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Victoria is now in its 6th major lockdown since the pandemic started at the beginning of 2020. The extension for a further week is not a good sign and the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Add to that the chaotic management of the New South Wales lockdown, breakouts in Queensland and the snap lockdown in Canberra.

Delta has changed the landscape.  The impact is everywhere. Local businesses are struggling. Travel to Melbourne has become a major challenge. Travelling interstate or internationally is a nightmare if it is possible at all.

Seeing friends and family is much more difficult. Many people are worried about their future. Others are tired of the continual Yo Yo lifestyle for work, school and community life. At any moment Delta can show up in the local community.

The only way out is to reach 80% to 90% vaccination levels. Quarantine, tracing and lockdown are no longer a safe harbour. Delta is too infectious to manage without high vaccination rates.

Unfortunately, Australian vaccination rates are still way behind Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom. Still less than half of Australians have had their first dose.

Before Delta complacency was not such a big risk. Quarantine and contact tracing worked, to a point, and short sharp lockdowns could manage outbreaks once we learnt how to do them.

The vaccine rollout has been a woeful dawdle, but we thought we were going to get there without too much disruption. That is no longer true.

Now we are going to have to live with Delta while we race to get vaccinated. That means ongoing lockdowns and restrictions to prevent the health system being overwhelmed until our vaccination rates are high enough to prevent wildfire spread, hospitalisations and deaths.

The next three months is going to be tough while we live with continual restrictions and lockdowns until we reach 80% to 90%.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is plenty of AstraZeneca, Pfizer availability is rapidly increasing and it is likely Moderna will be available soon.

Vaccines aren’t perfect, but overwhelmingly the evidence is they are safe and effective. Risks are tiny. All  available vaccines in Australia massively reduce your risk of hospitalisation and death from COVID. There are now vaccination options locally and in nearby vaccination centres.

If you’re already vaccinated, great, but that’s not enough. There is a real chance we won’t make it to 80% as a community. Some people are busy and vaccination isn’t a priority. Others are uncertain. A small group are misinformed and misguided.

It is time we all made a collective commitment to get to 80%.

We need to encourage other people to make their vaccination appointments. We will need to provide assistance to our friends, neighbours and family when it is needed.

We need to make it clear vaccination is a collective responsibility, not just an individual choice. It is the right thing to do. Not getting vaccinated has consequences for others, not just ourselves.

There is only one pathway out of lockdowns and restrictions – vaccination. The future is in now in our own hands. Each of us can make a difference.

If enough people get vaccinated before Christmas we can look forward to a much more normal life next year – not a bad Christmas present to ourselves!

Hal Swerissen lives in Daylesford. He is emeritus professor of public health at La Trobe University