Summer Schwartz° Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Scientists warn against weaker vaccine

Immunology experts are calling for a pause on the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout because it may not be effective enough to generate herd immunity, the Nine papers report. While trials have shown the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be about 95 per cent effective in preventing infection, continuing studies of AstraZeneca give it only a 62 per cent chance of prevention, though it protects recipients from developing severe Covid-19. The Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology and the Australasian Virology Society yesterday recommended pausing or limiting the rollout to focus on more effective vaccines, but the latter changed its position following internal debate, not wanting to undermine confidence until trials are complete. University of NSW vaccine modeller and government adviser James Wood said herd immunity was “the long game”, but protecting life was much more important at this stage. The government has secured 53.8 million doses of AstraZeneca and only 10 million of the Pfizer, each requiring two jabs per person. Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, while priority groups will receive Pfizer.

The Australian Medical Association is asking government leaders to call out medical misformation, after Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack refused to rebuke Craig Kelly on his controversial Covid posts, saying, “facts sometimes are contentious”. In a statement, AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid says Australia needs a government-funded social media campaign to counter misinformation online, while AMA vice-president Dr Chris Moy wants McCormack and Scott Morrison to directly counter dangerous comments from public figures. Failing that, Moy says it’s time to start looking at other ways of tackling misinformation, including altering the algorithms that determine what content people see in their feeds. That won’t go down well: in the third “call for greater oversight” this week, Liberal MPs want social media companies to sign up to a code of conduct on the way they remove content and shut down accounts, with federal laws to mandate the code expected on the Coalition party room agenda.

Economists and business leaders are calling for changes to JobKeeper, which is due to run out at the end of March. In the Nine papers, prominent economists want JobKeeper extended past March for businesses affected by lockdowns, arguing assistance should be ongoing, tailored and targeted. In The Australian, hospitality and tourism groups say the eligibility criteria for the final three months of the scheme – under which a business had to show its turnover for the December 2020 quarter declined by between 15 and 50 per cent on the previous year – should be relaxed, with many businesses that recovered just enough to be disqualified now struggling. Council of Small Business Australia chief Peter Strong says any business that has been identified as a case location should automatically be eligible for the scheme. Unions, meanwhile, will take their fight with Qantas over its misuse of JobKeeper to the High Court.

US President Donald Trump has rejected responsibility for the attack on the US Capitol, claiming his remarks at a rally beforehand were totally appropriate. Speaking to reporters for the first time since the siege, Trump said moves to impeach him were “causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger”, adding that he wanted “no violence”. A little louder for the people in the back: NBC News is reporting that right-wing extremists have moved to encrypted channels to plan violence on inauguration day, sharing knowledge on how to make, conceal and use homemade guns and bombs. 

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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Rachel Withers is the editor of Summer Schwartz.