The COVID-19 Booster: Australia’s pandemic response overreached says review

An independent review has found Australia’s pandemic response inadequately supported vulnerable people and should have used lockdowns less often.

These were among four key findings by the Paul Ramsay Foundation, which suggested there should be better planning prior to policy introduction in future epidemic or pandemic responses.

“Policies were too often designed and implemented without proper regard for the inequalities in our society and the vulnerabilities of key communities,” said the review’s panel chair Professor Peter Shergold, who is chancellor at Western Sydney University.

“All governments should consider issues of fairness when they make policy. But at a minimum, we need to recognise the existence of disadvantage in our responses to crises.

“People experiencing social inequalities or particular vulnerabilities in our community suffered unnecessarily. They paid a higher cost. Much of this could have been avoided if planning had considered inequities from the outset.”

Among its recommendations, the review called for stronger crisis preparation; wide-ranging, flexible planning; and risk identification. It also recommended governments establish an expert disease control and prevention body and take in greater, transparent advice when developing plans.

COVID-19 data dashboard

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^Sum of Australia state and territory reporting; *Australian Department of Health Reporting. Data correct as of 21 October 2022.
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Data: World Health Organization

COVID news in brief

Moderna clinical trial with young children

Moderna has published results of stage 2-3 clinical trials of its mRNA vaccine in children aged six months to five years. The trial administered reduced dosages of the mRNA-1273 vaccine to almost five thousand children, and placebos to around 1,500 (a 3:1 ratio). Moderna found “non-inferior” neutralising antibody responses compared to the dosages administered to young adults. No new adverse effects were reported.

Higher national life expectancy equates to fewer excess deaths during pandemic

Japanese researchers from Jikei University School of Medicine have found the higher the life expectancy for a 60-year-old living in a country with an aging population, the fewer excess deaths occurred in 2020 and 2021.

The association between these two statistics was reported following an analysis of national populations around the globe. In a letter published in JAMA, researchers reported a statistically significant association between lower excess deaths and sexagenarian life expectancy in ageing populations (accounting for 40 countries). In others, the strongest association with excess mortality (lives lost above the nation’s expected death rate) occurred in populations with higher probability of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease between the ages of 30 and 70.

Life expectancy bounces back in developed nations

At the same time, research from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Demographic published in Nature Human Behaviour found that life expectancies in several western European countries bounced back following steep declines in the first years of the pandemic, while eastern European neighbours continued to decline.

American nations like the US and Chile also saw life expectancy decreases continue.

Mortality data from 29 countries were analysed, and found life expectancy in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden returned to pre-pandemic levels last year. Lower national vaccination levels were associated with low or decline-continuing life expectancies in other nations.

Long COVID is likely to strain healthcare systems around the world

Researchers investigating Ontario’s healthcare system found a spike in healthcare attendance by people two months after infection with SARS-CoV-2.

In a paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal the authors suggest this has implications for healthcare system burden because long COVID – a series of broadly-defined post-recovery symptoms – is expected to increase the number of medical attendances as the pandemic continues. The World Health Organization estimates 10-20% of those infected with the virus will continue to report symptoms a month after recovery.

Longer reads

One of Australia’s principal infectious disease research agencies has called for a rethink on the way virus testing is handled during pandemics to avoid overwhelming health and viral surveillance systems.

Story by Matthew Agius

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