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Podcast Ep. 2: Are vaccines the silver bullet?

  • Burnet Institute
  • 17 Aug 2021
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The speed of vaccine development for COVID-19 has amazed the most seasoned of scientists. So, how did we get here so fast? And will the vaccines continue to stop death and disease, days off work and ongoing economic disruption in its tracks as the virus keeps mutating?

In this episode of How Science Matters, you’ll meet Burnet Institute’s Professor Heidi Drummer, Program Director of Disease Elimination, who thinks no-one will be untouched by COVID-19 in 20 years’ time, and why the need for a coronavirus vaccine is up there with measles or smallpox.

Prior to the pandemic, Australians were among the world’s biggest travellers – with a record breaking 11.2 million trips in 2018–2019.

But if our international departure gates are to resemble anything from the recent past, our vaccine uptake must match our appetite for adventure.

That’s because COVID-19 is here for the long-haul, warns Professor Drummer.

“For SARS-CoV-2, everyone is susceptible to infection. This will not leave anyone untouched in 20 years’ time. We will all have had some SARS-CoV-2 infection."

According to Professor Drummer this reality also opens a minefield of questions about global citizenship and vaccine differences.

“If I want to go to Israel on a holiday and I’ve had the AstraZeneca vaccine, would I be able to travel into Israel?”

“I think there needs to be some global agreement reached about this. We need to accept that different vaccines have been used.”

The aeroplane was the mosquito

While an infectious disease like malaria is spread by mosquitoes – sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres – in the case of COVID-19, “the aeroplane was the mosquito that travelled this virus all around the world.”

Now, as the virus spreads, we’ve had to adopt public health measures like wearing masks, physical distancing, and lockdowns. But the only way to reach any form of normalcy is to trust the science of vaccines, Professor Drummer explains.

“There’s incredibly good evidence coming out of England, Scotland and Israel of the effectiveness of both the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccine for preventing hospitalisation for severe disease.”

Aussies better off rolling up their sleeves

For many remote destinations vaccines are just part and parcel of smart travelling. Aussies have willingly been jabbed to protect themselves from sickness while abroad – from hepatitis A to typhoid and rabies.

Professor Drummer says vaccinations like the yearly flu shot have a long history of stopping us from getting the full-blown disease.

“If I get a flu vaccine, I have no expectation that I won’t get influenza this year. But I will have an expectation that I won’t spend two weeks in bed doing absolutely nothing with a high temperature.”

It’s not magic, it’s just reliable science

In our fight against COVID-19, we “need to reach at least 80 per cent of people fully vaccinated, to start thinking we’ve got herd immunity.”

She says evidence-based findings show that, “we can’t keep chasing the virus.”

“The whole idea is suppress replication everywhere, in every country, as much as possible so that the vaccines we’ve got today will work tomorrow.”

With each emerging variant of the virus, like the highly transmissible Delta, Professor Drummer says we must realise that living in a COVID-19 bubble in Australia is not the solution.

“People need to understand that we can’t continue living in this bubble. It’s unsustainable for our society to live like this. It’s ruining so many sectors – businesses, our education system. And just generally how we live our lives has been severely impacted.”

Listen and subscribe to How Science Matters, an 8-part podcast series by Burnet Institute to help us to make sense of the many impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic through science.

Hosted by former ABC broadcaster, Tracy Parish and Professor Brendan Crabb, a microbiologist, malaria researcher, and one of the best minds in infectious diseases and global health today. Produced by Written & Recorded.