Survey: Can Australia Achieve Herd Immunity Against COVID-19?

As the world seeks to recover from the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many health experts look to vaccines for hope. As of February 2021, the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccines have been approved for use in Australia, and ten vaccines have been approved worldwide. 

But the effective implementation requires a majority of the population to be vaccinated quickly in order to achieve herd immunity. Vaccine rollout is dependent on both manufacturing and administration, but it’s also reliant on the willingness of people to get the shot. Vaccine hesitancy could impede efforts to contain the pandemic. 

A new survey by The CareSide, a leading home health care provider in Australia, looked into this issue further. The data for this report was collected in December 2020, before any vaccines were approved in the country.

Summary of Findings 

The survey polled a sample of 1,122 Australians. The respondents were categorized by age: 74% were 18-39 years old, 20% were 40-64 years old, and 6% were 65 or older. 

According to the findings, an overwhelming majority of Australians plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Overall, 69% of respondents said they anticipate receiving a vaccine once one is approved and available. 

As expected, the elderly are most interested in vaccine protection. We found that more than 3 out of 4 individuals over the age 65 plan to get vaccinated. This makes sense since they are at the highest risk for severe illness. We were surprised to learn, however, that only 57% of those between 40-64 years-old also plan to receive the vaccine when it is available. Among young adults aged 18 to 39, 71% said they plan to get the vaccine. 

The survey also asked how respondents feel about the Australian Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A significant majority, 79%, said they feel the government has done a good job. By comparison, 21% said they did not feel the government has managed the pandemic well. 

This response was generally consistent across age groups: 79% of people aged 18-39, 80% of age 40-64, and 73% of those 65 and older all agreed that the Australian Government has handled the pandemic well. 

Australia Has Fared Better than Most Advanced Economies

Compared to most developed countries, Australia has managed to keep COVID-19 at bay. The disease has resulted in only 29,000 cases and 900 deaths so far. Life is nearly back to the pre-pandemic normal, while many other parts of the world are still experiencing lockdowns and restrictions on everyday activities. But despite the country’s strong response, COVID-19 remains a threat.

A survey by Pew Research in December 2020 in the United States found that only 60% of Americans planned to get the vaccine. This means that vaccine hesitancy could be a bigger challenge to overcome in the U.S. relative to Australia. Another study by Pew Research found that only 48% of individuals in the U.S. and 41% in the UK say their country has done a good job handling the coronavirus outbreak – both significantly lower than the percentage of Australians that our survey found approved of the government response.

The U.S. leads the world in both cases and deaths, but for many Americans, the danger of the virus isn’t enough to overcome concerns about the vaccine. It’s possible that lack of trust in the national government and its pandemic response is related to vaccine hesitancy. 

Herd Immunity is Not a Guarantee

Although it’s encouraging that a majority of people in Australia are willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the findings from this report may not be good news for the long-term effort to contain the pandemic. 

That’s because we don’t know how much of the population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. New, more infectious variants of the virus have been identified in Australia, which pose a threat to continued containment of disease spread. 

In addition, we don’t know yet how much vaccines will prevent transmission. So far, vaccine trials have only measured how much they protect the vaccinated person against developing serious illness from the virus -- but it may be possible for a vaccinated person to be infected and to pass on the infection, even if they don’t get serious symptoms. 

Depending on how effective vaccines are at preventing transmission, herd immunity in Australia could require a vaccine rate of 80-90% or even higher. 

Why This Data Matters 

Australia has been successful at controlling the virus. As of February 2021, there are only 30 active cases in the country. But globally, the pandemic is far from over. We still don’t know if it’s possible to eradicate the disease. 

Overcoming a global pandemic is a once-in-a-generation challenge. It requires leadership at the macro level from government bodies and agencies like the World Health Organization. But that alone isn’t enough. It also necessitates a community-wide effort at the micro level. This includes schools, local businesses, and volunteers. 

As a home care provider to seniors, The CareSide is on the ground floor of this initiative. We have been intimately involved in caring for some of Australia’s most vulnerable people throughout the pandemic. 

We conducted this survey to learn more about the obstacles the country faces during the rollout of the vaccines so we can better serve our clients and support our local communities. We play a role in educating individuals as they make critical healthcare decisions.

The coronavirus has changed the world in many ways. It represents an enormous challenge. But it also presents opportunities for communities to unify for a common cause. And it could lead to positive changes to healthcare structure and delivery. Both individual choices and broad societal trust will be key to determining how we transition out of this crisis and into the future.