Weekend Herald

UK shows how to do a rollout of the vaccine


There are few things Kiwis or Aussies like less than being shown up by the Poms. But that’s exactly what’s happening over the rollout of coronaviru­s vaccines.

Protecting people from the coronaviru­s is very serious, and yet there are other sides to it.

Vaccinatio­n efforts on different sides of the world have become a bit competitiv­e. There’s national pride on the line. And potential benefits — a lot of people want to get from vaccine to vacation.

On Tuesday, people in England downed pints in celebratio­n of Covid restrictio­ns being lifted. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are easing restrictio­ns at slightly differing speeds.

Nearly half the target population in the UK has received at least one dose. The vaccine programme there has been so successful, it has now been opened to anyone aged between 45 and 49. And patients in England are now able to get the Moderna vaccine as well.

There’s an uncanny ring of a Rugby World Cup about all this.

We’ve had a year of being able to feel smug while the English response to the pandemic was worthy of the Six Nations’ wooden spoon. But which country is doing better now?

There are only five million of us — getting jabs in arms shouldn’t be a daunting task. Instead of cutting through to the try line, our rollout seems more like a field-long rolling maul.

Australia’s media, always keenly aware of its country’s global standing, is gnashing its teeth over the flailing rollout across the Ditch.

A presenter on Australia’s Channel Nine pointed out that “[Aussies] now have the very real possibilit­y of countries finishing the rollout before half of our population even has access to a vaccine”.

Labor spokesman on government services Bill Shorten told Nine: “If we become a backwater and drop off the pace, there will be a price to pay for it.”

Beyond the pitched rivalry, however, the Covid situation looks in the balance at present. Some countries, such as the UK and the United States, are doing well with vaccines while others, including Brazil and India, are surging with virus cases.

Until vaccines are widely distribute­d around the globe, variants will be a problem and the virus will spread. More countries will need realistic border policies and more hard decisions, such as the one to temporaril­y suspend travel by returnees from India, could be needed.

A tiered system for travel appears likely in the short term with fewer restrictio­ns for those vaccinated and able to pass regular testing. And vaccines are reportedly being scooped up for the next few years at higher prices.

In one view, the transtasma­n bubble is just a stop-gap. Countries want tourist dollars, foreign students and to attract businesses. But on Monday, a grim new forecast warned that internatio­nal travel for Australian­s may not get back to normal for another three years.

In the Deloitte Access Economics’ quarterly business outlook, economist Chris Richardson forecast there would

There are only five million of us — getting jabs in arms shouldn’t be a daunting task.

be restrictio­ns for incoming travellers for some time. “That keeps internatio­nal travel — both inbound and outbound — pretty weak in 2022, and it may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024,” he said.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted on Wednesday to temper expectatio­ns and keep his fellow citizens level-headed by giving restrictio­ns credit for the reduced risk of catching the virus. “Of course the vaccinatio­n programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.”

That claim has been greeted with media scepticism and other countries have been struggling under lockdowns without the same good results.

Britain aims to give everyone over 18 at least one dose by July 31.

It’s a great turnaround after the UK recorded more than 127,340 deaths during the pandemic. Britain’s infection rates and deaths from Covid19 are well down from their ghastly peaks. New daily infections have dropped sharply from about 50,000 in December.

Data on vaccine programmes is the best reason to feel hopeful of progress.

In a contest between vaccines and the virus, the UK is showing that rollout targets for jabs can be met.

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