Issue 2 • 2022
© 2022 The Royal Australasian College of Physicians

RACP Congress 2022 explores the impact of COVID-19 on society and the world at large

RACP Congress 2022 – A climate for change – explored major drivers of social change, so there was no way that COVID-19 could be overlooked. During the three-day event, a range of sessions focused on different aspects of COVID and the impact it has had on society.
COVID-19, should we worry about the latest variant? was the question posed by Dr Sharmila Chandran as a way of introducing the clinical updates. COVID-19 the latest scientific development of the virus and the vaccine was provided by infectious diseases physician, Professor Allen Cheng. Starting with a status update and discussion of the variants, he spoke about factors increasing and decreasing transmission rates, along with factors reducing severe illness. There was an exploration of progression in mild/moderate COVID, and he presented the evidence-based recommendations from the national evidence taskforce and conditionally recommended treatments. He then went on to discuss the antiviral trials and outcomes before taking questions from attendees. The panel discussion, COVID-19 A game changer, was a fascinating exploration of what we had learned, along with lessons on how to deal with future pandemics. The panel discussed the importance of preparation in guiding the initial response and the lessons still to be learned. Evidence-informed leadership was also discussed and the key principles of protecting public health were explored. Research infrastructure to explore the needs of children was touched on, with comparisons made between Australia and other nations. Professor Adrian Miller talked about lessons learned from H1N1 in regards to the response of local indigenous governments and communities and the benefits it brought them in the COVID response. Speaking on the rise of variants, the effectiveness of past practices was also examined. There was an understanding that, while there was, to some degree, an acceptance from the public regarding the need for lockdowns and border closures, more open discussions about what might be needed in the future were required. focused on ethical issues that had arisen during the pandemic when it comes to the care of the community. Along with the question of how we balance the care of the community while still treating the individual, the session also discussed how to take care of each other, especially in light of the fact that COVID was not over, and pandemic disruptions were likely to occur again. Dr Danielle Ko spoke of the patient and family experience in end-of-life care – the actions taken and the lessons learned. Issues such as a fair exemption process, the considerable burden placed on frontline staff decision making, and the need for providing a forum for staff to express distress were also identified as areas where much had been learned, but would need consideration in the future. Dr Diego Silva spoke of Melbourne’s hard lockdowns and argued that ethical decision making, including the application of ethics principles, requires serious consideration of the broader context. He also felt that this was often lacking in Australia’s COVID-19 response. The differences in the needs of the communities and the cultural challenges were discussed by Dr Dawn Casey. She pointed out that, while funding did come, there were often issues with the rollout. The burden of disease and inequality in the communities led to a full panel discussion and an engaging Q&A session. Maori health was discussed in the session, Keeping our whanau safe and healthy during COVID-19. With a focus on maintaining connection in the community, providing health services and caring for those at risk, the session revealed that some of the measures were so popular that there was a desire to keep them running in a post-lockdown landscape. Participants shared learnings and techniques that they had implemented to assist others. The impact on children was explored during the Children and COVID-19 session. Associate Professor Julia Clark commenced the session by providing a recap of previous years and a contrast between Delta and Omicron. She went on to talk about the burden of disease, hopitalisation of children, and the impact of antivirals and drug treatments on acute COVID. Associate Professor Margie Danchin spoke on the effects of long COVID and the impact of school closures on children. Dr Niroshini Kennedy spoke about the crisis in children’s mental health, particularly that of vulnerable children, and how we could help them catch up. Professor Chris Blyth finished the session by speaking on vaccination in children and the long-term side-effects. He spoke about the ongoing trials focused on younger children and the immunogenicity and effectiveness of current vaccines, before moving on to the question of the safety of vaccines. He touched on adverse events, those reported by both patients and parents, and how some of the common side-effects occurring in young adults were also occurring in adolescents, although at a lower rate. The panel finished with a very engaging question and answer forum, where attendees had the opportunity to squeeze out every ounce of knowledge from the expert panel.