Get vaccinated and learn to live with COVID

By Mark Fitzgibbon
Head of nib Mark Fitzgibbon. Picture: Marina Neil

Between 1940 and 1941 Great Britain and especially London, suffered intense aerial attack from German forces.

The Battle of Britain became emblematic of its strength and resilience in the face of an extreme threat. It also demonstrated extraordinary trust and cooperation across a community.

Blackouts for example, were essential for everyone.

There was no discussion about how requiring people to turn off or block their home lighting was somehow unreasonable and a denial of civil liberties.

With the global COVID-19 death rate now estimated at more than 15 million, it's hard to understand why so many sensible, decent and normally law-abiding citizens see the threat of a global pandemic any differently.

Their vaccination hesitancy or overt opposition means they simply don't believe COVID-19 to be the life-threatening enemy all the science and mortality proves it is.

It seems they're just not scared enough.

It's a hypothesis supported by the evidence worldwide of a tight correlation between death rates and vaccination take-up.

Whatever the case may be, at least the Delta variant has laid bare the fallacy that COVID-19 can be eliminated. The truth is the only big disease and existential threat to humanity we've ever defeated is smallpox.

Today we can still get the bubonic plague - 700 years after it ravaged Europe. And the latest outbreak also means we're now measuring the right number.

What gets measured gets done, and high vaccination rates are the key to dealing with COVID-19 and its variants (many still to come).

From here we need to get our skates on - reach the 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination targets and learn to live with the virus like we do so many others.

Sadly, almost 12,000 Australians died last year from other respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, but we accept and manage that risk.

A level of vaccine hesitancy is understandable. However, we rely on vaccines from birth and, notwithstanding the odd misadventure, they have made us all safer and extended life expectancy.

For all their tragedy, infectious diseases present only half the challenge to humanity.

The other half constitutes less obvious, but no less fatal, non-communicable diseases such heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

These are diseases not the doing of killer viruses, but often poor health behaviour such as overdosing on sugar, poor diet and lack of nutrition, too much alcohol and substance abuse. It's a slower "burning deck".

To tackle these, we need a level of conviction and energy commensurate with that we're devoting to COVID-19.

Mark Fitzgibbon is managing director and CEO of nib

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