Wednesday, September 01, 2021

‘I got the AZ’: the peculiar second life of the disdained AstraZeneca vaccine

Since I was one of those who chose to get the AZ, I am rather pleased to read this. I am not usually fashionable -- JR

As the Pfizer vaccine rollout extends to younger age brackets and many holdouts finally come forward for a jab, the under-40s who had already received AstraZeneca are sitting on their high horses.

a hand holding a toothbrush: AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine© Provided by Crikey AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine
A subtle sense of perceived moral superiority can be seen among those who signed up for the out-of-favour vax counter to health advice. You could even say AZ is trendy among young people.

How does a vaccine become cool? Like most things in life, when you tell someone not to do something they’ll want to do it more. If you tell someone a behaviour is risky, they’ll want to prove they’re not afraid.

Getting AZ carries with it a number of subtle, but desirable, messages. The recipient is highly rational and able to assess risks without succumbing to fear mongering. They’re happy to accept risk and even go against official health advice. Essentially they’re bold, independent thinkers — and a little edgy. And, finally, they care about the public good and doing their bit. This selflessness permits them a “humble brag” on social media in the name of spreading messages of vaccine confidence.

This newfound status is a rather humorous pivot, given that not so long ago the name AstraZeneca equalled blood clots and death. Even once the minuscule risks were explained and contextualised, the older generation still wasn’t biting, and it looked like the AZ campaign was tainted beyond recovery.

But when under-40s were given the go-ahead to request the AZ from their GPs, counter to the government’s vaccine advisory group ATAGI’s advice at the time, a new wave of youth-driven AZ support was born. The “vaxxie” took off in Australia, with young journos on Twitter being among the first to share selfies receiving the AZ jab.

And soon enough the AZ bandwagon gained a sense of moral authority; its ample supply made it the more ethical choice, and the vaccine that was once shunned was now the subject of bragging rights for its recipients. The 20-somethings who managed to get their hands on Pfizer were soon looked at with thinly veiled disdain — they’d taken the easy route. I’ve heard someone describe a Pfizer recipient as “too chicken” to get AZ.

This all sounds rather negative, but I’ll confess I am one of the young ’uns who got their first shot of AZ in July and, yes, I did post about it on Instagram.

I think it’s the right thing to do, but I have to acknowledge that this perceived trendiness may have encouraged my decision. When I told a friend I was writing this article, he agreed the trend was real. He even changed his Facebook display picture to tell the world he had taken the plunge with the AZ.

There’s no such thing as a selfless good deed, but if this unlikely trend is what it took to get uptake of the AZ vaccine, then so be it. Whatever gets the job done.

As for how the vaccine that is most commonly accepted across the globe became a “fringe” vaccine in Australia is a question for ATAGI, government officials and the media, but I suspect that “I got the AZ” will be a statement that holds some weight for at least a few years.


Court backs academics’ free speech in swastika dismissal case

A controversial University of Sydney lecturer who was sacked after superimposing a swastika on an Israeli flag has won a key victory in his battle to be reinstated, with the federal court declaring academics at the institution are entitled to convey even offensive views in their area of expertise.

The decision reverses a previous court ruling that had suggested academic freedom was merely an aspirational goal with no legal force and bolsters academics’ free speech rights nationally amid a focus on censorship on campuses

But it does not mean the lecturer, Tim Anderson, will ultimately win his legal campaign to get his job back because another judge now has to examine whether his conduct was within the bounds of academic freedom or went too far.

Dr Anderson, who came to national prominence when he was acquitted of planning the 1978 Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney, taught political economy from an “anti-imperialist” perspective at the university from 1998 until 2019, when he was fired after a string of online incidents from 2017.

They included calling Republican Senator John McCain an “al Qaeda supporter”, suggested a News Corp journalist was a “traitor” to his ethnicity and posting a photo of friends at lunch, one of whom was wearing a patch in Arabic that read in part “curse the Jews”.

After several warnings, Dr Anderson published slides including an infographic, which two of the appeal judges said was “an expression of a legitimate view, open to debate, about the relative morality of the actions of Israel and Palestinian people”. The infographic argued Israel’s conduct was much worse but also included an Israeli flag with a Swastika in the middle. By January 2019 he was fired.

Initially, a federal court judge found Dr Anderson was not protected by the academic freedom clause the university had negotiated because it “does not create any enforceable obligation”. Three judges of the federal court, including chief justice James Allsop, overturned that.

“No matter what view is taken of Dr Anderson’s conduct, this case concerns his livelihood and profession,” two said. “He is no more and no less entitled than anyone else to a fair determination of his application in accordance with law.”

All three ruled that a right to academic freedom bound the University of Sydney, so long as academics conducted themselves in accordance with high ethical, professional and legal standards and did not harass, vilify or intimidate anyone.

“The right would be meaningless if it is subject to qualifications such as not involving offence to others, not being discourteous to others, or not involving insensitivity to others,” Justices Jayne Jagot and Darryl Rangiah held.

A university spokeswoman said the institution was disappointed by the decision, which it would review before deciding what to do.

Dr Anderson said in a post on his website that the court had recognised his infographic was tied to a discussion about morality in the Israel-Palestine conflict, in contrast to how it was “falsely depicted” by the university and media “simply as a ‘Swastika Image’, offensive to Jewish people”.

However, Justices Jagot and Rangiah said the swastika flag image was “deeply offensive and insensitive to Jewish people” and could suggest a “false moral equivalence comparing Israel to Nazi Germany”.

The libertarian Institute of Public Affairs’ police director Gideon Rozner said while Dr Anderson’s views were misguided, mean-spirited and borderline delusional, he should not have been censored.

“In a liberal democracy, the price of free speech is that the worst of human thought has as much a chance of being expressed as the best,” Mr Rozner said. “We cannot make intellectual freedom contingent on whether we like the speech being aired.”

Matthew McGowan, the national secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, said it had brought the case alongside Dr Anderson not because it defended his comments but because it believed in academic freedom.

“Universities should embrace this decision and work with the union to ensure we have legally enforceable protections for academic freedom, which is fundamental to the sector and the work that we do,” he said.

Enterprise agreements, which at the University of Sydney contained the academic freedom clauses Dr Anderson relied on in this case, vary from campus to campus and Mr McGowan said the union would push to strengthen them.


A tribunal decision has opened the door for owners corporations to hit pet owners with a $300 fee

While pet lovers can no longer be banned from bringing their dog or cat into their apartment building to live, they can still be slugged as much as $300 for the privilege, a NSW tribunal has ruled.

They can also be forbidden from stopping to pick up their mail while in the lobby with their pet and from having a friend with a pet visit them – unless they’ve already applied for, and been given, permission by their owners corporation.

The landmark judgment by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) means that other apartment buildings throughout the state will be free to impose similar strict conditions on pet owners.

“But I feel those kind of rules are just unnecessary and show over-zealous management of a building [by] imposing such rules on pet owners,” said retired businessman Bob Roden, who unsuccessfully brought the action against his Kings Cross apartment tower, The Elan, protesting against the introduction of the slather of strict rules.

“Charging owners $300 for permission to keep a pet isn’t any benefit at all to an owners corporation, which has a budget of millions and millions of dollars. I argued that such rules were harsh, unconscionable or oppressive, but the tribunal ruled against me.”

The NCAT verdict could have repercussions for all the apartment buildings that are now being forced to allow pets after a change in the state law on August 24 made it illegal to unreasonably forbid the keeping of pets in strata buildings. That followed the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Jo Cooper, who successfully pushed for the overturning of a blanket ban on pets at her Darlinghurst building, Horizon.

Many could now introduce similarly onerous rules on pet ownership. Barrister Richard Gration, who acted for The Elan owners corporation, said: “It’s going to be quite an important precedent for other strata schemes.


Native title body concern over traditional place names on SA driver's licences

South Australians are now able to add Indigenous place names to their driver's licences, but the change comes with a warning from the state's peak native title body.

About 300 residents have already chosen to have a First Nations name added to their residential address and identification.

The director of ServiceSA, Shannon Smith, said the organisation took inspiration from Australia Post, which worked with Gomeroi woman Rachel McPhail to include First Nations country names on envelopes and packages.

"We started getting some customer inquiries about this during the year and NAIDOC week culminated in a few more," Mr Smith said.

"We thought this would be us doing our small part in recognising the traditional owners of the land.

"We provided the capability for customers to add the traditional place name to their licence for the area in which they reside — it's purely customer choice."

Mr Smith said so far all the feedback had been positive.

What's in a name?

SA Native Title Services (SANTS) chief executive Keith Thomas said the initiative was a move in the right direction but he had questions about its execution.

Mr Thomas said choosing an Indigenous place name to use could be complicated.

Many areas are subject to native title determinations, where particular Aboriginal nations have legal rights over the land.

Some places are not subject to native title, but are still known to be the traditional lands of one or more nations.

And across Australia, where the Indigenous name for many specific towns, cities or places is known, or is even in common use, it can still be ambiguous.

"There are numerous maps, but they're not all accurate," Mr Thomas said.

"In the future … we would be keen to be involved in establishing a map that clearly identifies who the groups in certain areas are."

SANTS uses the federal government's National Native Title Tribunal map to advise people whose land they are on.

ServiceSA, however, said it referred customers to a different map on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies website, which showed traditional land ownership but not native title claims.

"If you look at a native title map it can be very confusing," Mr Thomas said.

He said there could even be situations in which the local native title group would have to verify land names themselves to avoid confusion or mislabeling.

Consultation limited

ServiceSA did not consult with Aboriginal organisations or groups about the inclusion of traditional land names on drivers licences.

Mr Smith said it listened to the "groundswell" in the community.

"We did engage with Aboriginal staff members within ServiceSA to provide advice on the way forward," he said.

But Mr Thomas said SANTS should have been consulted and suggested a liaison officer within ServiceSA could work with SANTS and other native title groups to help ensure the initiative was successful.

"We could give them certainty around the Aboriginal group names," Mr Thomas said.

"There are some groups that have boundaries that run halfway through a town.

"It can be quite confusing if you're not aware of those sorts of intricacies that come from looking at a native title map."

Improvements likely

Mr Smith said he was open to changes.

"We are currently looking [to improve] our forms to make it obvious you can include the place name if you wish," he said.

"Also, whether we can put in any checks to verify the residential address or suburb to the traditional place name — we think there might be a way through that but we are still investigating."

He said ServiceSA may consider whether to allow Indigenous customers to include the nation they belong to, in addition to the land they live on, in the future.




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