PROFESSOR JOHN DWYER AO
| Pearls & Irritations | Edited extracts
SYDNEY - Alarm bells are ringing as a new variant of the Covid virus has emerged in southern Africa and is spreading rapidly around the world.
Labelled Omicron (the number 15 in Greek) the variant has numerous mutations that could make it highly infectious and possibly resistant to vaccines.
It has already infected people in 12 African states and has made its way to Britain, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel and most likely many other countries.
This is the first time scientists have been able to watch in real time an infectious agent mutating to improve its chances of survival.
The virus has created a means of slipping smoothly into the body, locking onto a cell and fooling it that it's OK.
Within days of the new variant being detected, scientists could see 30 or so changes to the spike proteins of Omicron.
We do not yet know if these changes make the virus more infectious. Omicron is certainly infectious but there is a chance it will be neutralised by the antibodies vaccines produce. We will know soon.
Meanwhile, probably doomed efforts are being made to restrict the travel of people from countries where Omicron has been detected.
Don’t get me started on the irony of having millions of the desperate poor crying out for vaccines as they run out of ground to bury all their dead.
Meanwhile thousands of Australians march through Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane angrily protesting that their governments want to mandate vaccination in certain circumstances.
Last week, not for the first time, US president Joe Biden urged vaccine manufacturers to remove patent protections from their vaccines.
In Australia, people have much to think and worry about as we challenge the virus to let us live a near normal life.
While 72% of Australians are fully vaccinated, which has slowed the spread of Covid, we have a long way to go.
Closer to home, less than 2% of people in Papua New Guinea have been vaccinated.
Protection after two shots of a vaccine is excellent in the short term but protection wanes after six months or so.
Serious illness and death occurs far less frequently as immunity wanes but there is universal scientific agreement that a third booster dose is required for longer protection.
Epidemiologists are becoming convinced we will need to vaccinate children as young as two to achieve infection control.
Australia is not sufficiently concerned about the lessons of Covid. Vaccines alone are not sufficient to limit community spread.
It might take 90% of a population to be vaccinated with three doses to contain the spread of the disease. We are a long way from that target.
The pace with which we are abandoning crucial public health initiatives is of great concern. Countries that have done so have paid a high price despite relatively high vaccination rates.
I am particularly concerned that in Australia contact tracing units may be demobilised, mask use abandoned and contact check-in dumped. I anticipate a big increase in infections in January and February, putting our hospitals under strain.
Covid is far from tamed – and 7.3 million Australians are not fully vaccinated including 5.2 million not vaccinated at all.