As a financial adviser company with offices in both England and Australia, we’re often making comparisons between the two countries.
Usually these are financially orientated – inflation rates, taxation, pensions and so on. But recently, there’s been a fair amount of publicity about the comparative Covid vaccination rates, so we thought it was worth taking a closer look.
The comparative vaccination figures
At the time of writing (13 August 2021), these were the comparative vaccination figures for people over the age of 18 in England, and over 16 in Australia.
As you can see, even allowing for the slight age differential, there’s a big discrepancy between the figures.
Covid death rates tell a different story
In stark contrast to the vaccine figures, however, it’s informative to look at the respective number of Covid-related deaths.
Source: Our World in Data
There’s another big discrepancy between the two countries, but this time the figures tell a far more positive story for Australia than the vaccine statistics.
Comparing lockdown strategies
Australia observed a strict lowdown regime that – with some relaxation – has continued since the pandemic began in March 2020. At the time of writing, movement is still strictly limited and controlled – with the Australian army recently being called in to enforce movement restrictions in Sydney.
In contrast, England has moved back and forward between different levels of lockdown. “Freedom Day” on 19 July marked the end of most restrictions, and since then the vaccine appears to have done its job in terms of keeping death rates very low.
The biggest contrast has been between border controls. It took until the end of May 2020 for England to start placing restrictions on people entering the country. Borders have remained open to a certain extent ever since the virus was first identified.
The contrast with the Australian approach to border control has been stark. The primary reason for Australia’s remarkably low death rate has been the closure of its borders – the so-called “Fortress Australia” policy – adopted by the Morrison government.
While closure of the Australian borders has clearly been a success in terms of death rates, it has caused big internal disquiet, and the signs are that it’s likely to push the country into a further economic recession.
Vaccine distribution in England has been a massive success
Former UK chancellor, Nigel Lawson once said that “the NHS is the closest thing the English people have now to a religion.”
The effectiveness of vaccine distribution and administration by the NHS has probably justified that claim.
The NHS are used to managing national health issues (there’s a clue in the name) and were wargaming different responses to pandemics for some time prior to the Covid outbreak.
There are procurement and logistics experts at every level of the organisation used to delivering big nationwide health initiatives.
The existing national structure for vaccine distribution through local Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) was adapted to ensure GP surgeries were not overwhelmed and could focus on other health issues. Instead, a whole new network of vaccine centres was set up from scratch – with remarkably positive results.
In short, it’s been a massive success story that has delivered a “vaccine bounce” in popularity for the government, which is only now starting to wear off.
It’s a whole different story in Australia
In terms of the fight against the Covid virus itself, Australia has been remarkably successful. But big frustrations have built up regarding the sluggish nature of the vaccine rollout.
The lack of an effective national health structure has created logistical problems leading to supply shortages, competition between states, and delays in vaccine distribution.
This has led to state and federal government arguing over who is to blame for the delays, rather than looking for a unified policy to solve the problem.
Problems were exacerbated after the government raised the recommended age for the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine to people over 60. AZ is the primary vaccine in Australia, so this suggestion of potential issues with the AZ variant has created problems for persuading people to have their jab.
Doctors administering vaccines at clinics have spoken out about shortages, while the nation’s general practitioners’ (GP) union had also raised concerns.
Steps have been taken to speed up the rollout, such as the opening of mass immunisation hubs. Yet the government is seeing its success so far in battling Covid tarnished by its vaccination effort.
The government has been forced to climb down from its original target of everyone being fully vaccinated by the end of this year. Instead, it has said all adults will just be able to receive at least one dose by the end of 2021.
The situation now
England is now starting to vaccinate people under the age of 18. This process will accelerate when the new school year starts in early September.
Given the number of those unable to receive the vaccine because of underlying health issues, it’s likely that they have already hit peak immunisation rate for most age groups. The number of vaccine “refuseniks” has also contributed to this assumption.
Attention is therefore already turning to a Covid booster, likely to be given at the same time as the annual influenza vaccine, starting in the autumn.
At the moment, the end of lockdown, and life returning to close to its pre-Covid normal, has not seen a big increase in infection rates. It’s clear that the vaccine is doing its job.
In contrast, Australia remains very much in lockdown mode, with restrictions of movement between states.
Although vaccination rates remain low, relative to other OECD countries, there are signs that the rollout is starting to become more effective, although progress is variable between states.
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