Morrison’s jab in the dark

I got my Covid shot this week despite not qualifying for Stage 1b – not quite old enough nor medically vulnerable enough. It was not down to queue-jumping or special treatment, but the bias and incompetence of the Government.

Let me explain. I took my 1b-qualified wife to get her shot at a GP-practice medical centre.

The chap at the door asked if I, too, was there for the shot. “No,” I replied, “I am not in the 1b category”.

“Would you like the shot anyway?” he asked.

“Yes, please,” I said.

In the previous few days people had been cancelling because of the blood-clot fear and the practice needed to use all of the vaccines supplied to it as quickly as possible for a couple of reasons. The vaccine has a shelf-life and the practice had obviously invested in extra staff and rented extra space so needed to run as efficient a show as possible or face significant losses. The practices have also had to contend with erratic supplies plagued by delays and shortfalls.

This, of course, is one of the consequences of setting up a national vaccination plan through thousands of GP practices and pharmacists. It is a logistical nightmare in waiting.

It arises from the Government’s bias towards the private sector. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Federal Government has constantly erred on the side of keeping borders and businesses as open as possible. Without the states imposing border closures and fast, comprehensive shutdowns, Australia would have gone the way of Europe and the US.

Returning to the blood clots, never underestimate the folly of the masses. One death in 1.2 million vaccines is not a high risk. Compare that to the 1000 or so deaths from Covid among 24 million people, that is one in 24,000.

The Covid risk is even greater. Variants are hovering. Most people have little idea of the power existential growth. With each person infecting two or three others every day it does not take long for the disease to infect the whole population.

With a death rate of around 2 per cent, as many as 500,000 Australians would die without lockdowns and vaccines.

So, individuals should be racing for vaccination, not listening to alarmists over blood clots.

But where was the government mass-information campaign to allay the ungrounded fears? 

The trouble here is that public-information bureaucracies have been corrupted over the past quarter century to be little more than party-political propaganda machines pushing out information-free glossy advertisements appealing to voter emotion. As a result, trust in government information campaigns has plummeted. 

So even if the Government had attempted a campaign, it might have had little effect.

Again, we will have to rely on the states to save us with mass vaccinations. It will be cheaper and quicker. NSW, for example, has prepared a vaccination centre at Sydney Olympic Park which will be able to administer 30,000 vaccines a week.

But this depends on federal supplies.

Here the Federal Government has done poorly. Only about a third of the available approved vaccine supply has gone into arms and the Government put too many eggs into the Zeneca basket.

More significantly, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison was questioned about this, he said that it was prudent to hold back enough to vaccine to ensure a second shot for all the people who had had the first. This accounted for more than a million undelivered shots.

But it was not prudent. Quite the contrary. The second shot would not be needed for 12 weeks after the first. That would be time enough to manufacture enough vaccine to meet the requirements for the second shot. In the meantime, all available stock could have been pushed out for first shots.

Bear in mind the first shot is at least 65 per cent effective whereas the second shot adds only 25 per cent on top of that. So, it would have made sense to put all available vaccine to use where it would have been most effective.

Another Covid-related matter this week deserves some comment.

When news came through that Australia’s gross domestic product is now as big as it was before the pandemic, that national income per head had gone up by 1.4 percentin 2020 and employment had bounced back, the Treasurer, the head of Treasury, Australia’s leading private-sector economists and leading economic commentators were all utterly silent on immigration and population growth.

But think about it. In 2020 there was no immigration and the population actually shrank in the first quarter of 2020-21 for the first time since 1916. In the year before the pandemic, it grew by at least 1.5 percent and in the years before around two percent.

If we had had typical immigration in 2020, all of that income per head would have been wiped off and the typical Australian would have gone backwards.

Sure, the per-head figure is a bit misleading. All of the data suggests that the top one percent would have creamed off most of the 1.4 per cent growth. Even so, the average Australian is better off without high immigration and high population growth.

We did not have to build infrastructure for a city the size of Canberra in just one year. Instead, money was available to support local jobs.

Notice, too, how the Government has decided to pour money into apprenticeships and training. The right deed for the wrong reason. It is doing so at the behest of its business donors who for the past year have missed out on their usual source of ready-trained labour – immigration.

It would be good if this were to be a more permanent state of affairs: training our own rather than stressing our environment, cities and existing population by giving business the cheap way out. Economic growth based on population growth is an illusion.

Lastly and unrelatedly, on climate: why can’t we be as slavish in following the US on climate as we were in going in to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Crispin Hull

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 24 April 2021.

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