More COVID outbreaks ‘only a matter of time’ if slow pace of vaccine rollout continues, expert warns

The slow vaccine rollout makes outbreaks inevitable, epidemiologist Mike Toole says.

The slow vaccine rollout makes outbreaks inevitable, epidemiologist Mike Toole says. Photo: Getty/TND

There are growing concerns Australia will face more lockdowns and be forced to deal with more infectious strains of the coronavirus if the slow pace of the federal government’s vaccine rollout continues.

Epidemiologist Mike Toole, from the Burnet Institute, has called on the federal government to be more transparent about when more vaccines will arrive, arguing the lack of information is starting to affect public confidence.

“It’s normal practice in major campaigns like this to be transparent,” Professor Toole told The New Daily. 

“You need public confidence, you don’t want people sitting on the phone for seven hours only to find out there’s not enough.

“People need to have a clearer understanding of the feasibility of getting it if they want it.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to jumpstart the troubled rollout, announcing all Australians aged 40 to 49 would be able to get their COVID vaccinations from June 8.

The PM also brought in the Army to boost the troubled rollout, appointing Lieutenant General John Frewen to help oversee the vaccine program.

Amid mounting pressure to do more to encourage mass sleeve roll-ups, the federal government has also flagged it has a major marketing campaign in the pipeline.

But the main barrier to getting vaccinated is supply, and the fact is there just aren’t enough vaccines to meet demand at the moment, Professor Toole said.

“Supply is now the main barrier,” he said.

“It’s a balance between supply and demand. As far as I understand we’re not going to be in a great supply situation until October.

The problem is what happens between now and then, particularly because we have a quarantine leak on average every 11 days. We have another 10-15 weeks before they arrive.”

Professor Toole said it was “only a matter of time” until other states had outbreaks.

“Some states have had a fair bit of luck. Victoria, though, doesn’t have much luck,” he said.

The Delta strain’s threat

The federal government’s vaccine rollout has been dogged by broken commitments, confused messaging and concerns over who can take which vaccine.

Vaccine supply has been uneven across GP clinics and mass vaccination hubs.

As Melbourne is in its second week of strict lockdown, Victoria will be sent an extra 142,000 Pfizer doses over the next week to respond to the demand.

The state is now battling a new coronavirus variant which is infamous for causing devastation in India and the UK.

On Friday, infectious diseases expert and Doherty Institute Professor Sharon Lewin said she had a “strong hypothesis” that the Delta variant currently causing more cases in Melbourne had been caught in hotel quarantine.

There had been concern the new strain, called Delta B1617.2, may have mutated in Australia as it had not been seen apart from a case in NSW last month.

“My strong hypothesis is that it’s coming through importation from overseas, through our quarantine hotels. That would be the most likely,” Professor Lewin said.

Authorities fear the Delta strain may have a very high transmissibility rate, and there have been initial reports of greater illness in children.

Professor Toole said although the strain was “more severe” it looked like the Melbourne outbreak was under control.

“It is more infectious, it causes more severe disease. It is less responsive to the vaccine,” he said.

“But this cluster, whilst you should never predict what COVID is going to do, it would seem like it won’t cause a big outbreak.”

Professor Toole said he would be watching the numbers in the coming days.

“The key thing will be any new un-linked cases.

“We’ve had two on Saturday. If we continue to have that I would be concerned about easing restrictions.”

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