To defeat COVID we need to acknowledge it’s still here, and commit wholeheartedly to the development of new tools, Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb has told the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.
In a broad-ranging discussion on the state of the pandemic, Professor Crabb highlighted the benefits of clean air and effective ventilation, the ongoing need to vaccinate, test and treat, the impact of climate change, and the importance of new tools to stay ahead of the virus.
“We don't tend to see huge peaks anymore, but we see a lot of COVID all the time,” Professor Crabb told host, Dr Norman Swan.
“If we face it, firstly face it with the tools we've got, and the modern science that we have.”
Professor Crabb said ventilation strategies are crucial and sought to correct the common misconception that COVID is mainly transmitted by large droplets.
“There's just so much to be gained from cleaner air,” Professor Crabb said.
“COVID is largely an indoor air quality issue. [There] are some strategies to ensure that our highest-risk places have clean air [which is] monitored, displayed and purified.”
These include monitoring air with good surrogate markers and simple tasks like opening windows or wearing a high-quality mask in high-risk areas.
Professor Crabb said there have been significant lessons from the pandemic and scientific progress to better help us deal with the disease, which has been responsible for 5,000 deaths in Australia so far this year.
Life expectancy around the world has dropped significantly due to COVID, and Australia is no exception.
“We know so much more now about what to do about acute COVID, what to do about long COVID … we've learned the dose of virus that you get infected with matters a lot,” he said.
Professor Crabb said that while vaccines are highly effective, they’re not enough.
“Our attitude to COVID vaccination is dropping off I think because of this reliance on infection to do the job … it’s quite a dangerous way to do it because it ignores the effects of long COVID,” he said.
“This notion that after vaccination you can get infected and get better immunity … are true. Infection-based immunity is why people recover from COVID and it’s why waves disappear.
“[But] we have policy setting in most of the world where we are relying heavily on infection in the least susceptible people.”
Professor Crabb noted the potential impact of climate change on the current and future pandemics, a key topic for the UN High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Preparedness that he is attending in New York.
He said we can see the end of COVID in the same way as we've seen the end of other infections, there just needs to be more urgency to address it, and the cost will be far less compared to the ongoing impact in the trillions of dollars.
“There’s scope for COVID to be dealt with … We don't have to think of COVID as a forever virus,” Professor Crabb said.
“Just like we've seen the end of tuberculosis in the developed world. Of course, we haven't seen the end of tuberculosis in the developing world because there's no will to do it.
“But with COVID we have the will and the tools.”