The Guardian • Issue #1979

Getting left behind: people at high risk and lockdown

As many Australians eagerly await the seventy per cent vaccination rate so we can finally begin “opening up” and start easing the lockdowns, there is an enormous group of Australians who are being left out of the conversation: people who are immunocompromised and have comorbidities (for example heart disease, diabetes etc). These two groups will henceforth be referred to as “people at high risk.” As we are well aware, even people who are fully vaccinated can still get COVID-19 and transmit it, and this poses a enormous danger, for even if a person at high risk is fully vaccinated, they can still die from it. Herein lies the heart of the problem.

Given how deadly and easily transmissible the Delta strain has proven itself to be, for those who are at high risk, the easing of lockdown restrictions does not mean the same as for people who aren’t. They have a much greater chance of contracting and dying from the disease, especially as more and more people are once again back out in public. This effectively means they will have to live in a state of “unofficial lockdown” as the official lockdowns ease. Undoubtedly, lockdown has been extremely difficult for a lot of people. It has put an enormous strain on our frontline and essential service workers, our healthcare system, and those working from home.

The isolation during lockdown has caused rates of mental illness to skyrocket, as people struggle with depression, anxiety and uncertainty about the future, problems which are compounded for people at high risk. These are very visceral realities for a lot of people. For people at high risk who suffer from chronic illnesses, and/or have disabilities, their ability to be out in public safely exists on a different timeline. This is what we need to bear in mind when we think about the easing of restrictions.

The lockdown raises the further problem of accessibility that disabled people face. Some people are totally unable to be vaccinated due to their health conditions. For those who can, getting to the vaccination sites can be extremely difficult, a problem compounded by the usually very long wait times. It also is quite difficult to book in to be vaccinated at home.

We must also not forget that for many of the aforementioned groups, the pandemic isn’t their first experience of isolation. Many have lived for years under these conditions and have been forced to learn how to cope with it. This is by no means a call for everyone else to “suck it up” but rather a call for empathy, understanding, and solidarity.

So while the prospect of opening up again is certainly a cause for celebration and relief it is imperative to remember that it is also a time of great terror for tens of thousands of Australians who face a greater risk of dying over the coming months and years. While vaccinations are extremely important, they do not represent the magic ticket to freedom for many Australians. The government needs to prioritise booster shots for those most in need. When we think about the conditions of the pandemic and what the easing of lockdown means, no one should be left behind or forgotten.

This article was written in conversation with a friend who is at high risk and I’m extremely grateful to them for not only bringing this topic to our attention, but also the clarity, intelligence, time, and the conviction of their explanation.

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