There’s an urban myth that when it comes to painting Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge once you start you never stop. While that’s not completely true, painting does conform to a schedule. That’s how you stop the rust and rot. And it’s a simile only now being thrust on the world in the vaccine fight against Covid-19.

Earlier this week the New England Journal of Medicine published long-term efficacy numbers for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccines. It told us that while both drugs produced good antibodies against infection, that protection only lasted six months after their second dose. In other words, a person fully immunised today would be covered against serious Covid-19 infection but only till October this year.

Thing is, nobody is asking:

Then What?

Last Sunday, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison made an announcement of national importance. He did it not by press release; not by press conference nor a televised address to the nation—he did it via his personal Facebook page and timed it so it wouldn’t make the evening news.

He posted that henceforth, his government had no Covid-19 vaccination goalposts; nor would it be setting any in the future—and could not set them even if it wished to do so. We’re talking about the logistics of Australia’s Covid-19 war here.

Yet, he and his healthcare ministry led by Greg Hunt, a man who spent much of 2020 trolling the Covid-19 responses of state governments opposed to his government’s party, had assured all Australians that those wanting a Covid-19 vaccine would have one “by October”. They assured Australia that residents and workers in aged care facilities would be vaccinated by the end of March. They gave the assurance that Australia’s CSL would be manufacturing 1,000,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine per week starting in March, then April. They assured Australians that they were “at the front of the queue” when it came to international supplies of the Pfizer vaccine in 2020 and that Novavax would be flooding the local market in 2021 too. They assured one and all that general medical practices had the process of mass vaccination under control, that there would be a renewed Australian international economy pulsing under the steam of a neutered Covid-19 virus checked by the sword of vaccines in arms.

They lied from day one.

Besieged by political pork-barrelling scandals, a misogyny crisis, allegations of rape, and a defence force bleeding billions in dubious spending while beset by the controversies of alleged Afghani war crimes, the crescendo came a couple of days prior when the government’s federal immunisation advisory body ATAGI stepped up with a unilateral recommendation concerning the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine—the vaccine that formed the might of the country’s Covid-19 response.

Coming down harder than Europe and the United Kingdom, ATAGI recommended that following a minuscule threat of rare blood clotting after an AZ’s 1st dose, Australians under 50 should not commence an AZ vaccine regimen—absent a compelling need. Rather, it said, the “preferred” jab for under-50s should be the Pfizer mRNA vaccine. Australia had no access to Moderna’s mRNA brand at all.

“Preferred” is the word that apparently sent Scott Morrison into a panic.

That evening, just days prior to his Facebook session, he took to the air in a solemn joint press conference with Greg Hunt and Australia’s health department head Brendan Murphy announcing that henceforth, only those aged 50 years and over—and those who’d already successfully received their 1st AZ dose regardless—could proceed with AstraZeneca.

All he did was sow fear, confusion and miscommunication as his message, like a bad game of Telephone, became:

AstraZeneca is no longer safe.

And next day the media jumped on reports of medical practices cancelling all AZ shots; of vaccination hubs denying essential healthcare workers their 1st AZ jabs; of state government authorities telling GPs to hold off all doses pending provision of federal paperwork indemnifying them of liability.

In fact, Scott Morrison’s press conference and his Facebook blurb gave him what he wanted: A diversion from his women and defence problems. It’s just that this time, people saw the chaos for what it was—politicking: worse they attributed it to executive negligence and dereliction of duty.

You know things are bad when even Rupert Murdoch’s conservative rag The Australian blurts out a digital headline:

Where are the bloody vaccines?

Not having a national Covid-19 vaccination plan, a schedule, a time frame—call it what you want is not an option in any country’s fight against Covid-19.

The Covid War of 2020 with its lockdowns and sacrifices was shouldered solely to bring people to this point: a protective jab that would minimise Covid-19 transmission and send serious Covid-19 infection into history’s bin.

But now, the New England Journal’s math has thrown a new urgency into the fight.

We don’t just need 1st doses followed by 2nd doses (three weeks apart for Pfizer and twelve for AZ).

Six months later, we’ll also need 3rd and 4th doses concurrent with the roll out of the firsts and seconds. Then 5th doses and sixths.

Australia is now past the concept of a “roll out”.

We’re now in a critical cycle. For without those timely 3rd and 4th doses, you may as well forget starting inoculations at all. Six months later we’re told, we’ll once again be Covid-exposed. This isn’t the flu. We don’t yet have an annual Covid-19 shot.

No, the prime minister must pick himself up from either his perceived place of safety or off the floor, wherever his mind truly is. There must be a new Covid-19 vaccination plan for 2021-22 and one catering for at least six doses per capita.

And for that we need leadership. Wartime leadership (the same leadership I called for a year ago that never materialised).

Wartime leadership states that you set a goal that’s grand but unfathomable. You demand its achievement, and you empower your deputies to bring it about under your jurisdiction.

You vow to defeat Hitler before having the landing craft needed to invade France. You promise an air umbrella before the tactics of precision bombing have been devised. You say that your nation will land on the moon to vanquish your Soviet foe, who’s already beaten you into space, while not even knowing what a lunar module looks like. You say you’re going to defeat Covid-19 and then bring the world around to your thinking instead of waiting for it to offer you a chair.

There will be a new Australian Covid-19 vaccination plan providing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th shots in 2021. And if it takes a change of federal leadership, it will be done.

Update 15/4/21—Moderna now claims its vaccine lasts longer than 6 months

Things move fast. With curious timing and after last week’s announcement by Pfizer that its mRNA vaccine “continues to be effective up to six months”, the Boston Globe is reporting a claim by Moderna that its mRNA vaccine:

Continues to provide strong protection six months later.

The fight for the public’s mind and administrative confidence is on. Watch this space. When it comes to planning 2021-22’s Covid-19 response, this issue is the whole ball game.

Final update 16/4/21—Pfizer admits more than two doses required

And this morning, two days after this article was posted, The Age newspaper is running the headline:

Pfizer CEO says third COVID jab may be needed, plus annual booster.

Stick with me folks.

© 2021 Adam Parker.

Picture Credit: Eisenhower, D. W. (1946) Report by The Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945. London, His Majesty’s Stationery Office. (Author’s copy.)