Experts say Australia’s vaccine rollout must ‘dramatically improve’ if the program is to have any hope of meeting its deadline.
Experts say Australia’s vaccine rollout must ‘dramatically improve’ if the program is to have any hope of meeting its deadline.

Dire warning over Aussie vaccine rollout

Concerns are being raised about Australia's coronavirus vaccine rollout after several hiccups in the first week.

The Federal Government has previously said it wanted all adults to be vaccinated by October, requiring a furious pace of about one million doses a week to be delivered.

It is already behind in the task, reaching just 33,000 doses of its 60,000 target last week.

Some of the states and territories, which are responsible for the rollout among quarantine and healthcare workers, have vaccinated less than 30 per cent of their targets (Queensland and Victoria), although other states are doing better and Tasmania has got through almost all of its quota, according to the ABC.

The Federal Government, which is responsible for the aged care and disability rollout, delivered 72 per cent of its share of vaccinations.

However, there's been headaches for the Commonwealth rollout, with more than 120 doses of the Pfizer vaccine thrown out after a storage error at a Melbourne aged care centre. This emerged after a dosing error that saw two elderly Queensland aged care residents given four times the recommended dose.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters on Tuesday that October remained the government's "objective and time frame", adding that the program would "ramp up".

"This is a progressive rollout, done that way for reasons of safety and security," he said.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard look on as NSW Health worker Andrew Santoso receives his COVID-19 vaccination in Sydney. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard look on as NSW Health worker Andrew Santoso receives his COVID-19 vaccination in Sydney. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

So far Australia has received 422,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

This should be enough to provide everyone in the priority phase 1a group including quarantine and hospital workers, their first dose.

Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett, a former secretary of the federal health department under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, told news.com.au the rollout would need to "dramatically improve".

"I haven't seen the Commonwealth establish the logistics yet to ensure it will vaccinate the general population … at the pace that is required," Mr Duckett said.

The Federal Government is overseeing the vaccination of the wider public through the GP network while state governments are overseeing vaccines for hospital and quarantine workers.

Mr Duckett said the Federal Government may have to ask state authorities to assist them but would probably have to pay them to do so.

"If they're going to meet their target they may have to go, cap in hand, to ask the states and pay them about $35 a shot," he said.

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Asked why he was so sceptical about the federal rollout, Mr Duckett said he hadn't seen evidence of large venues being organised as vaccination centres.

"When I had the flu vaccine last year I went to Melbourne Town Hall," he said.

"If you are going to deliver the vaccine to a large number of people, you are going to have to have large venues - we are talking about a million (jabs) a week."

The government has said it plans to roll out the vaccinations across 1000 locations in Australia but not all details have been revealed yet.

"I haven't seen any evidence of any planning," Mr Duckett said.

"If I'd heard any evidence at least of the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) or convention centre or town hall being lined up, I'd believe (the rollout will be ramped up)."

Mr Duckett is not the only expert who is sceptical the government can deliver on its plans to complete the rollout by October.

Dr Mark Hanly, an applied social statistician at the University of NSW's Centre for Big Data Research in Health, described the target, which he also estimated would require about 200,000 doses a day (or 1 million per five-day week) as a "truly furious pace".

"It's possible, but will require dedicated large-scale vaccination sites capable of delivering thousands of doses a week in addition to the enthusiastic participation of general practices and community pharmacies countrywide," he wrote in The Conversation.

Economist and modeller Professor Quentin Grafton of Australian National University also believes it's possible, although it would become clearer in the next month or so whether Australia was on track.

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"Obviously there's some teething problems and clearly some things need to be fixed up, presumably they are being fixed," Prof Grafton said.

"We know in other countries that it's certainly possible to vaccinate many millions of people in a short period of time.

"But it's got to be at a bigger scale than what's happening at the moment."

The Morrison Government has already flagged the timing may have to be extended due to the longer than expected gap between the two doses required for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On February 16, Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Australia with a 12-week gap between the two doses required.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was asked whether long gap would delay the vaccination program.

Mr Hunt said Australia was "absolutely on track" for every Australian who wanted the vaccine, to at least get their first dose.

"We'll look at what it means in regards to the second dose," he said.

The government intends to ramp up the number of doses being delivered, although it's unclear what their maximum number of weekly doses would be.

Mr Hunt has said around one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available each week from March.

 

charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2

 

 

Originally published as Dire warning over Aussie vaccine rollout



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