The truth about what vaccines are achieving, from a country getting it right

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London: By now you’ve probably heard Scott Morrison’s argument, which goes something like this: Australia can’t yet talk about a post-pandemic future because we still don’t know whether vaccines guarantee a return to normality.

To illustrate the point, the Prime Minister regularly notes COVID-19 cases are climbing in Britain even though 85 per cent of all adults have been given one dose of a vaccine and 62 per cent the full two.

People arrive to receive their COVID-19 vaccine in Westminster Abbey, London. Credit:AP

Sadly 117 people died – more than half of whom were partially or fully vaccinated. This sounds worrying but here again another complex story sits behind the headline number.

David Spiegelhalter, the chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge, and Anthony Masters, a statistical ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society, have a simple explanation for why so many fully vaccinated people died: the vaccines are not perfect and older people will always be at most risk.

“The risk of dying from COVID-19 is extraordinarily dependent on age: it halves for each six to seven year age gap,” they wrote in The Guardian. “This means that someone aged 80 who is fully vaccinated essentially takes on the risk of an unvaccinated person of around 50 – much lower, but still [it’s] not nothing, and so we can expect some deaths.”

Morrison – who sometimes but not always acknowledges that vaccines cut the number of people falling seriously ill – told reporters this week that the UK was recording about 100 deaths a week and declared that was “not a situation I’m prepared to countenance”.

He never said influenza and pneumonia now claim 13 times more lives in England and Wales than COVID-19.

The Prime Minister is entitled to defend his strategy. But he also has an obligation to not cherry pick the facts about a vaccination program far more successful than his own.

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