Scott Morrison won’t re-commit to his goal of having four million Australians vaccinated by April, as questions emerge about the sluggish speed at which jabs are being given across the country.
Australia would need to vaccinate about 140,000 people a day by early April to meet the federal government’s target of four million.
Now – 16 days into the nationwide rollout – only about 100,000 Australians have been vaccinated, far fewer than initially hoped.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the rollout could end up months behind schedule. Her state wants to keep running specialised vaccination hubs – which were meant to be temporary – to meet demand.
“We would like the option of being able to continue those hubs … That will certainly provide some support to the GP network as well, and will ensure we save months,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“It’s likely to take months longer than what was anticipated, to get the rollout to the number of people we’d hoped.”
Federal health department secretary Brendan Murphy, admitted on Wednesday that some states were “a bit slower starting up”.
“Aged care, we’ve had to start a bit more slowly than we looked at, but we’re scaling up,” he said.
Mr Morrison revealed on Wednesday that, despite some 1.3 million doses having arrived in Australia, only around 100,000 vaccinations have been given out.
The federal government had hoped to vaccinate between 60,000-80,000 people in the first seven days alone, and then “ramp up”. But issues with supply from overseas and subsequent delivery to states has complicated that.
Mr Morrison defended the pace of the rollout but wouldn’t commit to the federal government reaching its previously stated benchmark of four million vaccinations by “early April”.
“We said at the time that any of these estimates that we give are always subject to the progress of the rollout and the events that we encounter,” the PM said on a visit to the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Canberra on Wednesday.
“When we’re in a better position to give an update on those figures, then we will. And we’re certainly working to the sort of targets that we would hope for. But they are always subject to events.”
Mr Morrison said the government did not plan to “herd” people into mass vaccination sites, adding “what matters most is doing this safely”.
Figures released last week showed NSW had administered 74 per cent of the vaccines it had been given. Victoria had given only 30 per cent, and Queensland just 22 per cent.
Doctors have also raised concerns about the logistical framework, and how they are paid to give jabs.
However, most state governments are refusing to release current vaccination figures. No updated figures of doses delivered versus those administered are available, with state governments agreeing at last week’s national cabinet meeting to share only details of successfully delivered jabs.
Ms Berejiklian said NSW was not among those states that objected to sharing statistics. She said NSW wanted to deliver vaccines even faster, saying higher-efficiency syringes would allow more to be given.
Professor Murphy said the government expected vaccination rates to quicken substantially once locally produced doses of AstraZeneca start being delivered from Melbourne’s CSL facility from late March.
“This is not a race … We are taking it as quickly and carefully and safely as we can. We’re not like the US or the UK or most other countries in the world where they’ve got people in hospital dying,” he said.
“We can take our time, set up our systems, do it safely and carefully; we are expanding our rollout every day. We’re not in any hurry to race this rollout.”
He said the government expected about 1000 GP clinics to begin delivering AstraZeneca from late March. That will rise to 4000 during April.
“That’s when the real rubber hits the road,” Professor Murphy said.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, slammed the timeline, calling for things to speed up.
“[Mr Morrison] repeatedly proclaimed that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March,” he told The New Daily.
“The government is falling well short of its self-imposed deadlines. Australians want to know when they are getting their vaccinations and how long they will have to wait.”
States under scrutiny
Ms Berejiklian, who received her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday, said the states were still awaiting confirmation of the numbers of vaccines to be delivered to them, which was complicating the rollout.
“Everyone is trying their hardest,” she said.
“There’s also been a disruption of supply chains around the world so obviously what they had anticipating arriving at certain times may have been altered.”
Ms Berejiklian pleaded for more information on when more doses would be available. She said her state wanted to “do more” and “move more quickly”, but couldn’t do so without more data.
“The federal government is responsible for the rollout. That’s a challenge, something for them to advise us on,” she said.
Queensland has come under fire for its slow vaccination rates, with the state’s health department claiming last week it was being “picked on”.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk defended the numbers.
“I once again ask for people’s patience as we prioritise delivery of these vaccines to match the supply,” she told Parliament on Tuesday.