International travel has been restricted to fully vaccinated people for quite some time. It appears that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is now on every continent, including Australia. Indeed, it was confirmed on Sunday that two returned travellers tested positive to this new variant and that they were fully vaccinated.
Given it has been brought into Australia, and around the world presumably, by vaccinated people, does that mean everyone will revert once more to an unvaccinated status?
I argued in a piece back in April, quoting from the British Medical Journal, that imposing vaccine mandates and passports would be hard to justify, given that more evidence about the long term effectiveness of different types of vaccines and the duration of protection they confer is required, considering the emergence of new variants. And that was before Delta!
From what we know, this new variant spreads faster but is less virulent, which is what happens to viruses when they mutate. But what is worrying virologists about Omicron is that it has an unusually high number of mutations — 50, according to South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, which means it may evade vaccine protection. According to the head of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee, the newest ‘variant of concern’ causes unusual symptoms but those symptoms are mild. Indeed, she added: “Looking at the mildness of the symptoms that we are seeing, currently there’s no reason for panicking as we don’t see severely ill patients. The hype that’s been created currently out there in the media and worldwide doesn’t correlate with the clinical picture.”
Dr Nick Coatsworth stated the same things in a TV interview yesterday, suggesting that, this being the case, the country may actually want the new Omicron variant to spread.
“If this is milder than Delta you actually want it to spread within your community.
“You want it to outcompete Delta and become the predominant circulating virus. So, that shows you how much more we have learn about this.
“It could be that we want Omicron to spread around the world as quickly as possible.”
In other words, the natural immunity approach, which has been slammed in this country, might actually be the right approach.
Just last week a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrating that people who have recovered from COVID-19 are at little risk of contracting it again. Further, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it has no record of people who are naturally immune transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19 – yet we know that the vaccines do not stop infection and transmission. And scientists in Britain, which was heavily criticised following ‘Freedom Day’, say it is thanks to a combination of infections and vaccinations that have spurred a high level of immunity. “We still have a lot more immunity from natural infection than most European countries.”
In the UK, about 68 per cent of the whole population is fully vaccinated, yet it is sticking with persuasion. Britain does not widely require proof of vaccination to attend events or workplaces, and the government has ruled out mandating vaccines for everyone, though health and social care workers have been ordered to get shots.
If any more proof were needed that compulsion makes no difference, Florida, whose Governor Ron DeSantis has been at the forefront in challenging the Biden administration’s pernicious vaccine mandates and who has ditched masks mandates and lockdowns, has just reported the lowest daily COVID-19 cases per capita in USA.
Dr Coatsworth said at this stage there was no need to rush forward the vaccine booster program until more was known about the new strain.
“Definitely not at this point. We don’t know enough. Premature calls for action like that when we know so little are a little bit counter-productive.”
Coronavirus will be with us for decades to come. We have got through scores of ‘flu seasons and their inevitable deaths without any draconian measures at all. Surely now it is patently clear we must learn to live with coronavirus, just like we do with the ‘flu, which mutates every year, and that other coronavirus, the common cold, and not destroy the fabric of our society with spiteful and pointless vaccine mandates?
Dr Rocco Loiacono is a senior lecturer at Curtin Law School.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Curtin University.