COMMENT

The fastest a vaccine has been developed is five years, but the Government assumes 18 months.

The only part of vaccine development that can be significantly accelerated is manufacturing. Private investors do not manufacturer a vaccine until they know it is safe and effective and has buyers.

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We could start manufacturing all 109 candidate vaccines now and - if Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has his way, in our own pharmaceutical manufacturing industry - and hope at least one of them works.

The only coronavirus vaccine so far is for animals where we are less fussy about side effects. Animals cannot spook everyone with a tweet about the possibly expected side effect of a one in a million death perhaps by coincidence in a country of 5 million, most yet to vaccinate.

That is before we consider how in a democracy, we persuade 60-80 per cent of the population to vaccinate quickly against a virus that mostly takes the old who are already frail. We have enough trouble vaccinating the target of 94 per cent of babies for measles.

In the interim, pending the arrival of a 90 per cent effective vaccine, not just the flu vaccine which is 45 per cent effective, we closed our borders and devastated the economy with a lockdown.

A lockdown has a high fixed cost that is justified only when there is extensive community infection.

When there is a small amount of community infection, it is far more effective in terms of total lives saved to social distance and to track, trace and quarantine. Flattening the curve meant no more than keeping virus cases within the hospital system's capacity. Instead we have empty hospital beds.

The Cancer Society has forecast 300 deaths because of delayed treatments and people not going to doctors. We all know of someone who went to a doctor feeling a bit poorly and was carted off in an ambulance because they were having a heart attack or referred for urgent treatment.

These will be deaths of people with many years to otherwise live. They are not already on their last legs.

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The other reason a lockdown is saved as your last bullet in the chamber against a mass outbreak is it slows the development of herd immunity. There will be more waves if there is no vaccine.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Will the Government lockdown again when the unemployment rate is just coming down to 10 per cent and is 20 per cent or more in tourist dependent regions? By then, the deaths from delays in cancer and other treatments will have come into plain sight. Hospital waiting lists will have become a nightmare.

Will we prevent New Zealanders travelling abroad forever? Close the border forever? That is what you must weigh up if you have gone for elimination rather than herd immunity.

If you look at those Google mobility maps, Sweden and Australia look pretty much the same. New Zealand's looks like Lombardy and our unemployment rate is expected to be twice that of Australia.

Clearly there is some third factor in community transmission. In Lombardy, it was high levels of air pollution and smoking and at least a quarter of the population living in three generation households. In New York City, it has already been shown that the infection outbreaks neatly trace out the subway map. It was wrong to assume everyone was inevitably going to end up like that nightmare in Lombardy.

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Jim Rose. Photo / supplied
Jim Rose. Photo / supplied

I know that this is written full to the brim with the courage of hindsight, but the Swedes did not act in hindsight. They accepted the reality, the brutal reality that community infection was inevitable.

• Jim Rose blogs at utopiayouarestandinginit.com