“Public confidence” was the reason cited by Scott Morrison for his decision to get one of the first COVID vaccines in the nation, as the Prime Minister joined aged-care residents and critical health workers.
Mr Morrison, whose age and status would normally have seen him included at a later phase of the rollout in some months time, was instead among the first dozen people in the country to receive a COVID injection on Sunday.
Before the rollout officially beginning on Monday, with 240 nursing homes and hospitals around the country administering the first doses to those in Phase 1a of the plan, the PM and chief medical officer Paul Kelly rolled up their sleeves in what they admitted was a “curtain-raiser” public relations exercise to show trust in the vaccine.
“I have, by my own example today, joined by the chief nurse and the chief medical officer of our country, together with those Australians who are in the top priority of this vaccination program, to say to Australians, ‘It’s safe’,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s important. Join us.”
With fears that vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaxxer sentiment could threaten the rollout and potentially damage ‘herd immunity’, the government has been at pains to stress the safety of the vaccines – hence the constant emphasis on the Therapeutic Goods Administration undertaking a full approval process.
A health department poll, released last week, showed 27 per cent of Australians were “unsure” about getting a vaccine, while another 9 per cent said they “definitely” wouldn’t get one.
“I am here in solidarity. I am not asking for anyone to do something that I am not prepared to do myself,” Professor Kelly said.
When asked why he wanted to go first, Mr Morrison cited public confidence.
“Tens of thousands of people will be coming in [on Monday], and I wanted them to know as they went to bed [on Sunday] that we have been able to demonstrate our confidence in the health and safety of this vaccination,” he said.
Mr Morrison, Professor Kelly and chief nursing officer Alison McMillan got their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday, alongside a handful of aged-care residents, medical and quarantine workers.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said he and health department secretary Brendan Murphy will get the AstraZeneca vaccine, the other main jab in Australia’s portfolio, when the first supplies arrive from overseas in coming weeks.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, Greens leader Adam Bandt, and a “very small” number of their colleagues have also been offered a Pfizer vaccine.
Senior Labor and Greens sources told The New Daily they are still confirming when and where those symbolic vaccinations will take place, but it could be as soon as this week.
Some 60,000 people are expected to be vaccinated this week.
Australia is hoping more Pfizer doses arrive soon, with internationally produced AstraZeneca vaccines due to arrive in coming weeks, and locally made doses from Melbourne’s CSL on track for late March.
‘V for vaccines’
There were 20 people vaccinated on Sunday, at the Castle Hill Medical Centre in Sydney’s north-west.
Aged-care resident Jane Malysiak, 84, was the first in Australia to receive a vaccine.
Mr Morrison sat alongside her, as she rolled up her sleeve and received the Pfizer injection.
“I didn’t even feel it,” she said later.
"V FOR VACCINE!"
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) February 21, 2021
There was a light-hearted moment as Mr Morrison encouraged Ms Malysiak to put up two fingers in a “V for vaccine” hand gesture, and she briefly flashed the symbol backwards – considered an offensive gesture by some.
Media and medical staff in attendance burst out laughing.
Born in Poland, Ms Malysiak survived World War II before emigrating to Australia with her family as a child.
“I didn’t expect such a lot of people,” she said on Sunday.
“I just thought they’ll do the jab, and take two pictures and that would be it.”
Six residents in aged or disability care, three aged-care workers, two respiratory clinic workers, four quarantine workers, and two disability support workers joined Mr Morrison and the two chief medical officers in getting jabs on Sunday.
BREAKING: and here it is.. Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP gets the COVID-19 vaccine. First a quick medical check, he has no fever or allergies, then he gets the jab! #7NEWS #auspol 💉 pic.twitter.com/lSXaFCOXPY
— Jennifer Bechwati (@jenbechwati) February 21, 2021
Sadly, anti-vaxxer social media pages and some on Twitter claimed Mr Morrison had not received a jab, wrongly claiming the cap on the syringe was still in place.
However, live video footage from the clinic shows the doctor removing the cap, poking the needle into the PM’s arm and pushing the plunger to inject the vaccine.
The metal needle is also clearly visible as it exits his arm.
Mixed strategies from world leaders
Mr Morrison is the first Australian politician to get a COVID vaccination.
Other national leaders like British PM Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden also elected to get their vaccines at an early stage of their respective rollouts, in televised appointments to boost confidence in their countries.
However, other leaders have chosen to wait.
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who is facing immense criticism for a slow rollout in his country, said he would wait to get a jab until “when my turn comes … whenever healthy adults in their 40s are open to getting vaccines”.
Also on Sunday, New Zealand’s vaccination program began.
PM Jacinda Ardern has decided not to put herself at the top of the queue, saying recently: “I will absolutely be vaccinated … But right now I’m not the first order of priority.”
“I don’t have day-to-day contact with people who may have COVID-19.
“It is our cleaners. It is our security guards. It is our nurses who do the testing at our managed isolation facilities. They need to be first in line,” Ms Ardern said recently.