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Auckland can't afford to wait in level 4 for high vaccination rates: Immunologist

September 13, 2021 12:12 pm
Central Auckland at midday on 27 August [Source: RNZ]

A leading immunologist says although widespread vaccination is the only long-term way to curb Covid-19, the immunisation rate should not be the only factor in ending the elimination strategy.

Director of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the programme director of the Vaccine Alliance, professor Graham Le Gros, says social and economic pressures and how much people can withstand restrictions should also determine when to abandon elimination.

“This is only one event that got across the border and look at the mayhem, one month lockdown, a billion dollars a week that’s just not sustainable in the long term and all the pressure that people are under … the family issues, the schools, the devastation to the economy and the extra health issues.

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“People aren’t getting their colonoscopys, getting their skin checked for melanoma, heart checks up, all those things are really important health issues.”

Le Gros says getting the population’s vaccination rate up to 85-90 percent would be an important step towards opening the country up.

“It would be fantastic because getting all of the vulnerable people safe was the first goal and then we go all the way through to the younger ones.

“I think then we can be reassured we can actually somehow cope with this virus in our community because you’ve got to realise this Delta virus is good, we’re not quite catching up with it.”

If the tail of the outbreak can not be contained, Le Gros says the health system should now be in a position to cope with the consequences.

“Although we talk about the hospital systems being overwhelmed, I’m sure they must be working on the ability of the nursing system to cope and set up infectious critical care units and that sort of thing, they’ve had a year so hopefully they’ll be in place too.”

Auckland cannot afford to stay in alert level 4 until the population is 85-90 percent vaccinated, he says.

“I think that’s where the economic, the other health issues and the social pressures really start to come into play and I think that if you’ve got 70-80 percent vaccinated even with the one jab you’re in a pretty good situation to be able to withstand the major effects of this virus.

“I’m not throwing elimination out just yet … but you’ve also just got to face facts if the virus has got away and it’s just staying underground until it pops up again then let’s just focus on vaccination and learning to live with the virus.”

Meanwhile, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff thinks moving down alert levels this week is looking increasingly unlikely after mystery cases of the virus were found at Middlemore Hospital.

But if the alert level coming down isn’t on the cards, a fresh battering of local business confidence is.

Phil Goff says City Hall will be looking to central government for support as the country’s biggest city weathers its longest-ever lockdown.

“I think we need to stay the course, we’ve made a sacrifice now of four weeks and we’re not going to lift the alert level if there is still the risk that the Covid infection can spread across the community but everyday that goes on beyond the first four weeks the strains of alert level 4 on people and on businesses are undoubtedly building up.

“Businesses have kind of held in there with the pace of economic recovery from the last lockdown being better than we expected, unemployment was down, we got good economic growth but you can’t stop businesses operating and people working without a real economic cost so we are putting together a range of things that the government might need to look at.”

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