Vaccinations must be urgently ramped up to avoid Australia succumbing to a major coronavirus outbreak, a top epidemiologist has warned.

Dr Abrar Chughtai, director of the Infectious Diseases Intelligence Program at UNSW, said the rate of vaccinations around the country was critically low with less than 10 per cent of the population thought to have received a jab.

“We need to acknowledge that these are very difficult diseases, and without a strong vaccine roll-out we are not going to escape this pandemic,” said Dr Chughtai.

“With just 5 or less than 10 per cent of the population vaccinated, you cannot control this outbreak, which is why a strong vaccination roll-out is so important.”

Dr Chughtai’s comments were echoed by Wollongong MP Paul Scully, who said the roll-out was struggling.

“I think the vaccine roll-out has been very badly handled by the federal government, we should be much further advanced,” he told Central News.

“I should not be getting people contacting my office, who are in that first and most vulnerable category, and still having not received their first vaccine, let alone their second.”

Studies show that we need to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population to control this pandemic

Yesterday NSW state parliament was closed to MPs after Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall (pictured above) tested positive for coronavirus and Health Minister Brad Hazzard went into isolation and to be tested after being named as a close contact of an infectious person.

NSW recorded 22 new local infections of COVID-19 today, following the Bondi cluster outbreak that emerged last week.

Currently, the total number of infections related to the cluster stands at 65 cases and is spreading fast.

The cluster is being driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19.

Dr Chughtai said since we can’t rely on vaccination to tackle this outbreak, Sydneysiders will have to be even more diligent when it comes to testing, social distancing and mask-wearing.

“If people are not vaccinated then you have to rely on control measures, which could mean a lockdown, and certainly more testing and mask-wearing,” he added.

“If we follow health and government instruction, we can reduce spread of the virus, but studies show that we need to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population to control this pandemic.”

Data revealing the exact number of Australians who have been fully vaccinated has not been made publicly available by the government, although some reports say anywhere from as little as 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated.

Canberra has been criticised for its lack of publicly available vaccine data, particularly following the release of their national vaccination roll-out scheme ‘Covid Vaccinations Allocations Horizons’ on Wednesday.

With the release of the new document, the government announced the phasing out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been associated with a rare and potentially fatal blood clotting condition, by October, with the suggestion other vaccines would be made available to boost the vaccine roll-out.

According to the document, 2.6 million doses per week of AstraZeneca will be administered across the country from July to August, until it becomes ‘subject to request’ by October.

By September, the Moderna vaccine will be in full supply, with up to 125,000 doses per week made available to the primary care network.

At this time, Australia will also see an influx of Pfizer supplies, with up to 1.3 million doses to be made available per week.

Pfizer supplies are planned to increase by the end of the year, with the nation expected to see 1.3 million to 2.3 million doses per week.

I think it is very poor that we are still struggling to scratch the surface in terms of delivering an effective vaccination scheme

The data was announced by COVID-19 Taskforce Commander, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, who said the scheme was flexible and open to revision.

Yet, without more comprehensive vaccine data made available, like the datasets other governments around the world have been working with, Australia will find it much harder to improve on its vaccine roll out and identify weaknesses, said Dr Chughtai.

In the meantime, residents across NSW have seen new restrictions waved in, in light of what Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called the ‘scariest period’ for Sydney since the start of the pandemic.

The local government areas of Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick and the City of Sydney have all been placed on lockdown, with anybody who lives or works in these areas told to stay at home.

Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour must abide by strict social distancing measures until midnight Friday July 2.

These include:

  • Visitors to households limited to five guests — including children
  • Compulsory mask-wearing in all indoor non-residential settings, including workplaces, and at organised outdoor events
  • Drinking while standing at indoor venues is not allowed
  • Singing by audiences at indoor shows or by congregants at indoor places of worship is not allowed
  • Dancing is not allowed at indoor hospitality venues or nightclubs. Dancing is allowed at weddings for the bridal party only (no more than 20 people)
  • Dance and gym classes limited to 20 per class (masks must be worn)
  • The one person per four square metre rule is now re-introduced for all indoor and outdoor settings, including weddings and funerals

Yesterday only 16 ministers were permitted to enter the NSW parliament with all other MPs barred, and everyone having to complete mandatory tests upon arrival.

Mr Scully, the Member for Wollongong and Shadow Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, said while Parliament can work around interruptions like yesterday’s exposure scare, events like the Bondi cluster show a need for federal efforts to be ramped up.

“This is just a reminder to everyone that there should be no further delays when it comes to getting the vaccine rolled out,” he said.

“I think it is very poor that we are still struggling to scratch the surface in terms of delivering an effective vaccination scheme”.

Main picture by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 2018/Flickr.