How the ‘hermit kingdom’ became the world’s control group for the largest vaccination trial ever
Isolated from the rest of the world, the Australian state of Western Australia (WA) managed to keep Covid out for most of 2021, during which time almost four million doses of Covid vaccine were administered to the population. WA’s vaccine safety surveillance report for 2021 has just been released, and the results are grim: an ‘exponential increase’ in adverse events, with hospitals struggling to cope.
At the outset of the Covid vaccine rollout in Australia in February 2021, Health Minister at the time, Greg Hunt, told ABC Insiders, “The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever.” Indeed, never before had billions of people been injected with vaccines that were still in the trial phase and had only been provisionally approved.
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This real-world experiment would measure two outcomes: the new Covid vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. However, in a rush to get needles into arms, the experiment was confounded by Covid infections. In regions where the population was vaccinated while the SARS-Cov-2 virus was spreading, it was harder to differentiate between Covid vaccines and Covid infection’s effects. For example, observational studies have arrived at conflicting conclusions over the degree to which increases in myo- and pericarditis during the pandemic can be attributed to vaccination vs. infection.
There are few regions in the world where most of the population was vaccinated before the spread of Covid in the community. Sealed off from the rest of Australia, and the world, for 697 days, WA’s closed border earned it the moniker of the ‘hermit kingdom’. State Premier Mark McGowan noted WA’s unique role in the global vaccination trial, remarking to a press conference in early 2022, “You see, Western Australia is an experiment. We basically have had very few Omicron cases, we have very high vaccination levels, and we have a very compliant population.”
Inside the hermit kingdom, strict zero-Covid policies meant that by 31 December 2021, WA had only counted 1,158 Covid cases in the entire pandemic. At the same time, the McGowan government’s heavily promoted vaccination program and aggressive work mandates ensured that, by the end of 2021, more than 90% of WA’s ‘compliant population’ over the age of 12 had received at least one dose of Covid vaccine.
The Covid vaccine rollout began in Western Australia on 22 February 2021. This means we have nearly a year of vaccine surveillance safety data unconfounded by Covid infection. The data was finally published this month in the West Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) report for 2021, and the results are breathtaking. Not in a good way.
From the report,
“The number of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) reported to Western Australia Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) was significantly higher in 2021 than in previous years… due to the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccination program.”
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