And yet, despite these modest outcomes, it is considered a remarkable breakthrough. It is the first vaccine produced for a parasitic disease (malaria is spread via mosquitoes), which are considered far more complex than a bacteria or virus.
Australians are turning up in droves to get vaccinated. Canberra is leading the way in first doses, with more than 96 per cent of people aged 16 and over having rolled up their sleeves. NSW is not far behind at 90 per cent, and Victoria is sitting at 85 per cent. With an expectation that most will get a second dose, such levels of coverage would be some of the highest in the world.
And the 12 to 15-year-old cohort are rapidly catching up. In NSW and Victoria, more than 60 per cent have already got their first dose in just a few weeks since its approval for their age groups. It’s hoped the Therapeutic Goods Administration will permit doses for the 5 to 11-year-olds by Christmas.
Malaria kills about 500,000 people a year – about half of those children under five – and nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In development for more than 30 years, the new vaccine, called Mosquirix, had an efficacy rate during its trials of between just 30 to 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year. It also requires four doses and, within four years, had lost most of its protection.
It also serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are to have such potent COVID-19 vaccines on offer in Australia. All of them have an efficacy rate roughly double of the new malaria vaccine and, with a booster, it’s hoped they may offer a lifetime of protection. About 6.5 billion doses of vaccines have been administered globally, with about 46 per cent of the world’s population having had at least one dose. There is still a stark divide, however, with only about 2.5 per cent of people in low-income nations having received one dose.
There are dangers to seeing it as the cure-all. Even 5 per cent of Australia’s population who may avoid vaccination is more than 1 million people. That’s many people who would be susceptible to serious illness. And, despite their high efficacy rates, COVID-19 vaccines are far from offering what scientists call sterilising immunity, which would totally prevent infection.
But as NSW prepares to emerge from 106 days of lockdown on Monday, we can thank science and the resulting high vaccination rates that have clearly been decisive in driving down infections in NSW. There is significant hope that while there will likely be an uptick in infections in the coming weeks as people resume daily activities, the situation should be manageable.
That is certainly the trend worldwide. As vaccination rates have increased – on average 23 million doses are being given each day worldwide – the number of infections and deaths have been falling, with a noticeable decline since the middle of August. It was January 19 of last year when a man from Wuhan flew to Melbourne from Guangdong, China, carrying the coronavirus. He was the nation’s “patient zero”. In the 20 months since, no single Australian would have avoided its impact. But with Sydney’s opening on Monday, and Melbourne not far away, there is finally some expectation that the worst is behind us. Vaccinations may not be the panacea, but they have been fundamental in getting to a post-COVID normal. Whatever that may be.
Note from the Editor The Herald editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.