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COVID-19 modelling expert explains why it’s going to be trickier than many people think to vaccinate ourselves out of Delta

Even as vaccination rates rise across Australia, it is unlikely that risk-averse medical practices will be allowing pharmaceutical reps to engage in face-to-face visits any time soon. So how can new digital GTM channels help to close this gap? 

The only certainty about Australia’s roadmap to post-COVID commercial activity is that there will be several twists and turns along the way. In fact, it’s unlikely that pharmaceutical reps will ever find their way back to the level of face-to-face engagement they once enjoyed with doctors. 

The federal government says Australia can start moving away from lockdowns when 70% or 80% of the population are fully vaccinated. 

As with all things COVID, it’s not that simple. For example, Professor James McCaw, an expert in mathematical biology who helped develop the Doherty modelling the government is using, says several factors need to be considered for high vaccination rates to be effective.  

“The roadmap is all built around the fact that we can open up when we are able to manage the virus circulating in the community,”1 he told the ABC. 

That means there needs to be minimal community transmission for high vaccination to be effective. 

Adding to the uncertainty is a lack of consensus among states and territories. For example, Victoria is reluctant to ease lockdowns until community transmission is under control. NSW, however, is pinning its hopes on high vaccination coverage and appears resigned to having COVID circulating in the community. 

Getting out of a pandemic lockdown is a tough ask 

Getting out of a pandemic lockdown is tough, says Melbourne University’s Dr Jason Thompson, who advises the governments of NSW and Victoria and whose team have created thousands of scenarios to understand different strategies.  

In a recent webcast with Evans and Partners Chief Investment Officer Timothy Rocks, he said the challenge is to “release safely so that you don’t have five minutes of sunshine and go into another wave because you released too early”.2 

He says the classic epidemiological models give about six days of advance notice. But his group’s work can look weeks and months ahead based on different scenarios. 

He says that with the delta variant, everything happens three times as fast as with the earlier variants. “It’s like watching a video at three times the normal speed.” 

That means everything a government does has to be faster, including going back into lockdown when there is an outbreak. 

 

Trade-offs 

His view is that herd immunity won’t be achievable with a vaccination rate lower than 85-90%. Moreover, anything less than 80% cannot be backed by science. “It’s a social choice number. It has to be a political decision because you’re talking about trade-offs. Who gets sick, and who does not?” 

In the short term, it will be a trade-off between economic activity versus the health of particular sectors of the community. 

“We might be able to drive the reproduction number under one if we combine masks with high levels vaccination. I would suggest that in Australia we are going to have very high levels of mask-wearing even when we have high levels of vaccination.” 

Another crucial point is that there is no reason another variant won’t emerge in Australia with new challenges. “If you look at where there have been new variants in the world, it has been in areas where there have been uncontrolled outbreaks – Brazil, South Africa, India, the UK.” 

Dr Thompson emphasises that COVID-19 requires a dynamic response as the risk waxes and wanes. So what might be the right advice today may not be valid soon, he says. “The environment and the individual risk change.” 

 

The challenge for Pharma in getting their information across to GPs 

The uncertainty of COVID-19 is a sobering reality for pharmaceutical companies. Even before the delta wave, about 50% of GPs had indicated that they would not resume their previous level of interaction with reps.3 This is in line with a strong trend towards doctor-initiated digital communication with fewer face-to-face meetings.4 

In a recent ADG survey, 67% of GPs supported the statement that: “New information solutions that are available on demand and in an easy to consume format that I need to support my professional knowledge should be part of all pharmaceutical educational and marketing plans.” 

A further 27% were undecided, leaving only 5% who are not looking for an on-demand information solution.5 

In addition, doctors’ practices are risk-averse out of necessity. To protect patients and staff, it may take some time after the end of official lockdowns before they start allowing in non-essential visitors such as pharmaceutical reps. 

Therefore, future solutions must accommodate and empower all doctors to continue to engage and self-educate own terms and at a time and, digital destination and information format that suits them. 

How can Access.PLUS help to address this challenge? 

A proven Australian solution to keeping communication channels open is ADG’s Access.PLUS. 

Access.PLUS was launched in 2018 with the vision of offering Doctors the 24/7 opportunity to self-detail and engage with highly valuable pharmaceutical promotional and educational content via hosted eDetails.  

This empowers doctors to continue to engage and self-educate but on their own terms, at a time and place that suits them. They can subsequently opt-in for more information, request samples, sign up for virtual events or join client-owned platforms. 

These kinds of tools have already been adopted in markets like Japan, where the majority of the HCP community have transferred to online engagement and service support. 

 

To learn how your brand can benefit from a digitally led engagement model, contact: 

Ross Murray 

Strategic Partnership Director 

[email protected]