There’s a Brian Aldiss series of novels about a planet that has 500-year-long seasons, and ahead of each great winter, people get attacked by a virus called the Fat Death, which makes them gain a ton of weight, or else die, or else first one then the other. It’s actually symbiotic, because the virus allows the survivors to make it through the coming cold years, but the people don’t know that, so try their best to avoid it. Each cycle, a few pockets of smart-alecs manage to stave off the virus to remain slim and healthy and smug, but if they’re successful, they realize they’re skinny weirdos who can’t hang out with anyone.
Australia is that pocket of skinny weirdos.
It turns out that when you’re very successful at keeping COVID out of your country, you don’t feel a real urgency to get vaccinated. Only 4% of Australia is fully vaccinated so far, and a sizable chunk of the rest seem reluctant to be injected with something to protect them from a virus that isn’t really present around here.
This is an interesting situation to me because it involves people doing good things that lead to bad outcomes. (I also like the reverse situation, when bad things will lead to good outcomes.) Plus it comes with a big dollop of human inability to assess risk, which is a fascinating topic that I’ve written and spoken about before (essay, video). People are terrible at risk. We’re the evolutionary result of a biological system that prioritized fast decisions over correct ones, which was fine when the risk was saber-toothed tigers, but less fine when it’s blood clots.
We’re instinctively happier with risks that are the result of our own actions, such as swimming in a dangerous current or driving a car, than risks imposed on us by outside forces. And we especially hate risks that are new. We like to classify things into simple categories, with the result that a lot of people now believe driving to a medical center would be perfectly safe, but getting a vaccine there would be dangerous.
I’m not sure how Australia plans ever to open its borders. So long as they remain shut tight, there’s a low enough risk of catching COVID that for many people, it will be treated as zero. And a vaccine that presents any risk at all, however small, will be seen as dangerous.