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In a world full of bad news, with a population beaten and weary from the daily onslaught, is it better to be told something else grim and frightening, or to look for a pile of sand to stick one’s head in?
It’s not that there is no good news out there. People are still doing remarkable things, being kind to others, making amazing discoveries. But you certainly have to look pretty hard for such reports, flattened by the waves of bad news constantly rolling in and crashing over the top of them.
We should never give up in the face of bad news. But it is easy to become inured to it. As English novelist Evelyn Waugh put it in Brideshead Revisited, it can become like ‘‘a blow, expected, repeated, falling upon a bruise’’.
On Thursday, the latest modelling by Te Punaha Matatini experts of the likely impacts of Covid-19 on New Zealand was released, revealing a bleak future for Kiwis unless more than 90% of us aged 5 or above are fully vaccinated.
With that amount of vaccine uptake, and the continued use of masks, general caution, and restraints on the size of indoor public gatherings, the modellers say we should be able to avoid further lockdowns and carefully open up our border to the rest of the world again.
Of course, based on current vaccination figures and on the equity of vaccine delivery, that is still a good way off, with just more than 34% of our total population, and 40% of our eligible population, now fully vaccinated.
Massey University academic Dr Jagadish Thakar says the vaccination gap between Pakeha, Maori and Pasifika communities needs to close if we are to achieve this.
The latter two groups are much more at risk from Covid-19 and should not be allowed to suffer from inequities in access to the vaccine. About 76% of eligible European New Zealanders have received their first dose, compared with 67% of eligible Pacific people and only 52% of eligible Maori.
The Te Punaha Matatini modelling paints a saturnine picture. It says that if 80% of those aged 5 and over are fully vaccinated, there may still be as many as 7000 deaths and almost 60,000 hospitalisations in the course of a year.
Make that more than 90% instead, however, or greater than 85% of the country’s population, and that would likely drop to about 50 deaths a year and 500 people in hospital.
From those frightening figures we can see why the 90% target is being set. The thought of not reaching that level is scary. But do these figures amount to scaremongering?
Covid modeller and economist Rodney Jones certainly appears to think so. He considers the 7000 deaths a year scenario is not plausible, believes the model is ‘‘not helpful’’ for national morale and says the Government does not need to ‘‘scare New Zealanders into getting vaccinated’’.
His alternative view does make one stop and wonder the pros and cons of how useful it is to tell, and scare, people at this time.
Clearly, modelling of all kinds, generating all sorts of results, is essential for policymakers and the Government to look at as they deliberate over the next steps.
The best policies need to be informed by the most accurate data. ‘‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’’ goes the old saying.
It is totally understandable that many feel they have already had a gutsful of the pandemic, of the constant coverage of misery and despair, and depression over thwarted plans for the future.
Scaremongering is generally something not to encouraged. But it is far better for these matters to be discussed in the public arena, than hidden away out of fear they might upset.
In these extraordinary times, we feel a more compelling case can be made for such a blunt reality check than for tucking it away out of sight.
If it ultimately results in 90% or more of us getting fully vaccinated, then in the end it is totally justifiable.