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Chief economist update: The vaccine has landed

No more tears, fears ... and hopefully snap lockdowns.

Today, 22 February 2021, will go down in Australian history as VAC (vaccine against covid-19) Day (although Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and 84-year-old Polish aged-care resident Jane Malysiak, received their gift of jab a day earlier).

Two days short of 13 months when the coronavirus first reached Australian shores (25 January 2020), the vaccine has landed.

With the exception of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists - "They are one and a half, a few percent, maybe, in Australia," according to Victoria's chief health officer, Brett Sutton - the majority of Australians welcome the vaccine's roll-out.

"The Melbourne Institute's fortnightly 'Taking the Pulse' survey - taken on 1-6 February 2021 -- found that, "About 2 in 3 Australians are willing to be vaccinated and of these, 2 in 3 are willing to wait so those with higher risk get vaccinated first. Of the 1 in 3 who don't want to or are unsure about the COVID-19 vaccination, 65% express concerns about side-effects while 37% express disbelief in the effectiveness and/or distrust the vaccine."

That's about quite right. Informal get-togethers (er, drinking sessions) with friends and families reveal the same sentiments of hope, anxiety and hesitation.

But in line with other leaders of the world who got the first jab, "Great Scott" declares that,

"This is a historic day for Australia ... This vaccination program launches us down our path out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021," adding that, "Today is the beginning of a big game changer, there's no doubt about that. Its successful rollout will only further reduce the risk, and when you reduce the risk, then obviously, you do not need more blunt and extreme measures".

The 'Australian Financial Review' (AFR) daily reports that,

"About 170,000 frontline healthcare, quarantine and border workers will be the first to receive vaccinations from Monday in stage 1A of the rollout, with more than 500,000 aged and disability care residents and staff" for a total of 678,000.

About 60,000 Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses are expected to be administered to priority groups by the end of the first week."

Phase 1B will see up to 1.48 million administered to 6,139,000 Australians; Phase 2A to another 6,570,000; Phase 2B would inoculate another 6,643,000; and, some 5,670,000 injected with the vaccine in Phase 3.

If all goes according to plan, that's more than sufficient to cover all of Australia's population of 25.7 million (as at 30 June 2020, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show).

Water, water everywhere but not all wants to drink. While there are enough vaccines to go around, only 66.2% of us, Australians all, are willing to be vaccinated (Melbourne Institute's 'Taking the Pulse' survey conducted on 1-6 February 2021).

If the survey translates into actual take-up, it won't be good enough to generate herd immunity. That's when a sufficient number of the population is vaccinated that it prevents the virus from spreading.

Quoting Marylouise McLaws - University of New South Wales (NSW) UNSW Professor of Epidemiology, Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases - ABC News prints that,

"She said it was difficult to identify the "magic number" needed to achieve herd immunity, but if three-out-of-five vaccines administered were AstraZeneca and the rest was Pfizer, then at least 75 per cent of the population needed to be jabbed.

This number may even go up to 90 per cent, depending on variant strains."

Given these, it appears that Australia isn't out of the woods yet.

Then again, given our current low infection rates relative to other countries, decreasing rates of infections worldwide and the roll-out of vaccines in a growing number of countries, Australia's VAC Day adds another layer of protection against the pandemic - herd immunity or not - and onwards onto a return to pre-coronavirus normal.

Read our full COVID-19 news coverage and analysis here.

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