Much excitement at the weekend as Melbourne emerged from lockdown, consequent on Victoria’s Covid vaccination rate having reached 70% of the adult (aged 16 and over) population. But in some ways the more significant milestone is the one reached at almost the same time: there are now 90% – and rising – of the adult population who have received a first dose of vaccine. (Multiply all figures by 0.8 to get a rough equivalent in shares of total population, which is how most other countries report their data.)
The first-dose figure is the leading indicator. There has to be an interval of some weeks between doses, so the fully-vaccinated rate is still held back by supply issues as of a month or two ago. But barring something very unexpected, it will eventually catch up to the first-dose rate: apart from a handful who experience some change of heart, those who get the first dose can be presumed to be willing to get a second one.
And the main constraints on first doses are now on the demand side, not the supply side. So what that 90% figure tells us is that those constraints are not as serious as might have been thought. Actual vaccine resistance – that is, refusal to be vaccinated rather than just not yet having got around to it – seems to be restricted to a very small (if noisy) minority.
I confess I did not expect this. In the middle of the year, when the supply constraints dominated the story, I thought that the rapid takeup of first doses was only a sign that there was plenty of low-hanging fruit, and that it would eventually hit a ceiling somewhere around the 80% mark. I am very happy to have been proved wrong.
The contrast with the United States is striking. It managed its supply issues much better, and its vaccination rate ran well ahead of Australia’s; as recently as a month ago it was more than 16 points clear. But its growth stalled, and about a week ago it fell behind. Only about 66% of its population (a little over 80% of adult population) have received their first dose, and it’s not clear that there’s much capacity for that to grow. (See Our World in Data for figures and graphs.)
Why the difference? We know the story of vaccine resistance in the US Republican Party, and even if we didn’t it would be evident from the state-by-state figures: the map of low vs high vaccination rates is an almost perfect match for the results of the last presidential election. By no means all Republicans are anti-vaxers, but most anti-vaxers are Republicans, and the correlation is strongest for those with the strongest allegiance to Donald Trump.
So how has Australia, with its apparently rampant Trumpism in the Coalition parties, dodged this particular bullet? It’s true that the federal government has not openly attacked vaccination, but nor did Trump; on the contrary, he took pride in the development of the vaccines and quickly got vaccinated himself. Perhaps things would be different in the US if Trump was still in power and his followers therefore had less of an oppositional attitude?
Then again, much of the damage there seems to have been done by Trump acolytes who are still in power at state level. There is no real counterpart in Australia; almost all the states are run by Scott Morrison’s political or party enemies, none of whom have shown anything much in the way of anti-vax sentiment (although some joined in the demonisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this year).
We can at least hope that the figures reflect a real cultural difference, and that, despite appearances, Morrison’s Trumpism lacks deep roots in the Liberal Party or in Australian political culture more generally. Whatever the reason, thousands of Australians owe their lives to it.
[Sorry, this post should have appeared yesterday – other things briefly got ahead of me.]