Despite Western Australia’s extraordinary position in suppressing COVID-19, the team at Linear has had a first-hand account of the world’s fightback against the pandemic, thanks to working directly on a range of COVID-19 clinical trials, maintaining frequent touch points with our global biopharma clientele, especially in the US.
As we work towards a potential future of less restrictions across Australia, how can we learn from other countries to keep WA safe whilst opening up and supporting vital parts of the economy, such as international students and tourism, not to mention improving access to talent, which is impacting just about every business across the state at the moment.
The Delta strain has proven to be a monumental challenge. We need only look to the immense hurdles facing our family and friends in NSW and Victoria. Outside of Australia, countries that initially led the charge towards vaccination, such as Israel, have more recently seen cases rise again - raising the question of waning vaccine immunity. In the US, a fourth wave, driven by the Delta variant, has resulted in a rapid rise in cases and hospitalisations but this appears to be targeting those who are not vaccinated. Increasing rates of the disease in children, reported in the US, is of particular concern.
So, what is the latest leading science telling us? A recent article in the medical publication, the New England Journal of Medicine, did show that vaccine effectiveness against Delta was significantly reduced for a single dose. However, receiving both doses was more comparable to effectiveness against the Alpha strain.
In relation to waning immunity, data out of the US and Qatar suggests that immunity may be diminishing after periods ranging from six to eight months, when measuring symptomatic infection. Importantly however, the critical measure of hospitalisation and severe disease seems to be less impacted and preserved and may be further improved with continued public health measures, such as masks. Another promise, as highlighted in The Lancet, is that vaccines reduce the chances of contracting the debilitating chronic condition, Long COVID, should someone still acquire infection post-vaccination.
The impact of COVID-19 on children is not well established, although a recent article in the science journal, Nature, states that: “Right now — knock on wood — the kids are still winning with their innate immunity. But for how much longer? We don’t know.”
How can we apply this to our roadmap in WA? Put simply we need to progress our vaccination efforts. Given large sections of the community, including highly vulnerable populations in remote regions, remain unvaccinated, I for one support the State Government's stance on retaining border closures until at least 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, if not more. The less COVID-19 is circulating, the easier it will be to contain, putting less stress on our healthcare system. Businesses mandating vaccinations will help. It was great to see WA Health move forward with a plan for mandatory vaccination, reported on the same day that we at Linear announced the same.
Whilst children over the age of 12 may now receive a vaccine, it has not yet been declared safe for those under 12 to do so. Until then, it will be critical to safeguard younger children as best as possible by parents being vaccinated and mandatory vaccination of teachers, in addition to implementing public health measures, including masks and distancing in schools. Once we establish that it is safe for younger children, we should move forward rapidly with the roll-out. As a father of three young children under six, I have no hesitation in vaccinating our children once the data establishes it is safe to do so.
Given countries, such as Israel and the US, are moving towards vaccine boosters at the six-month mark, it adds further weight to speeding up the vaccination process in the event that boosters are rolled out in Australia. The majority will be looking to receive these before the winter months of 2022 when cases typically increase as we congregate more indoors.
Communities and businesses also need to start thinking about how we will manage with open borders. This will likely require increased use of masks and social distancing; we need to start planning for this now. An important tool that I believe could add great value to businesses is rapid antigen testing, which can be easily implemented, giving us greater surveillance capabilities. However, we need a change in stance from the government to support this.
Finally, it's important that we consider ways to better improve how we not only fight this pandemic, but future pandemics as well. It's worth noting that COVID-19 is one of a number of dangerous viruses that have taken effect since 2000, including SARS1, MERS and Swine Flu. Responding effectively to these viruses will require a coordinated effort from government and industry, with investment needed now to get ready for the future.
So, although we may face the biggest challenge yet as borders open up and it becomes inevitable that we must face COVID-19, we should be reassured that the data is showing us how we can approach this. Vaccination is not only the quickest way to get there but the only way to do so whilst stimulating our economy at the same time. Please roll up your sleeve if you haven’t done so already.
Antonelli, M., Penfold, R., et al. (2021). Risk factors and disease profile of post-vaccination SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK users of the COVID Symptom Study app: a prospective, community-based, nested, case-control study. Lancet Infectious Diseases. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00460-6
Chemaitelly, H., Tang, P., et al. (2021). Waning of BNT162b2 vaccine protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection in Qatar. medRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.25.21262584
Keehner, J., Horton, L.E., et al. (2021). Resurgence of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in a Highly Vaccinated Health System Workforce. New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/metrics/10.1056/NEJMc2112981
Mallapaty, S. 2021. Kids & COVID: why immune systems are still on top. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02423-8
Bernal, J.L., Andrews, N., et al. (2021). Effectiveness of Covid-19 Vaccines against the B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant. New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa2108891