Even the Morrison government’s revised conservative targets for vaccinating Australians will be tricky to meet, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned.
“It will be a big stretch,” Ms Berejiklian said on Tuesday, as it was revealed that vaccine supply to community pharmacies – a vital element of the program – might start a month later than planned.
There are mounting questions about the speed and effectiveness of the nation’s jab rollout, with the federal government fending off criticisms that Australia’s program is among the slowest in the world. Australia has administered 854,983 vaccinations as of April 5, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
While the US about four million people a day, Australia’s record rate is barely a quarter of that. On a per capita basis, the 4,081,959 people vaccinated in the US on April 3 would equate to 311,000 Australians.
Last Thursday, Australia set a “new record” for shots in a single day, according to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, with 79,283 jabs.
That number is expected to climb soon, as the number of GP clinics offering COVID vaccinations doubles to 3000, and nearly one million doses a week of the AstraZeneca vaccine roll off production lines at Melbourne’s CSL plant.
But on Tuesday, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said it believed community chemists would not get vaccine shots until June – not May as currently projected.
That could further hamper the federal goal of getting all Australians at least the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer or AstraZeneca shots by the end of October.
Ms Berejiklian, who has been concerned about the speed of the rollout for some time, reinforced her worries.
“It’s a challenge, which is why for some months now, the NSW government has been advocating to allow the states to step up and support the efforts,” she said, when asked about the pharmacy delays on Tuesday.
“The Commonwealth is negotiating regarding the pharmacy rollout so I don’t have much information about that. I’m relieved we can work together to try to hit those targets.”
NSW must give at least six million shots for all of its residents to be vaccinated by October,
“It will be a big stretch. Six million by October is a big stretch, even for the first shot,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“But having said that, we need to work as hard as we can together to
get as many people vaccinated as possible, because it will literally change our lives.”
The states have been, so far, asked only to vaccinate certain sub-sections of the population, with the federal government managing the bulk. State leaders, including Ms Berejiklian, have pleaded with Mr Morrison to allow them to do more.
“The NSW government was asked to do 300,000 and we’ve done more than a third of that already. We’re actually ahead of schedule in terms of what our job was,” she said.
“It’s up to the Commonwealth to work with us to allows us to help them with the remainder of the vaccine rollout.”
Federal Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler savaged the Morrison government for missing self-imposed targets of four million jabs by April.
The Coalition has blamed the delays on heavily-restricted imports of vaccines from Europe. Just 700,000 doses of overseas-produced AstraZeneca have arrived here, instead of the 3.8 million doses ordered.
Doses of Pfizer have also been slower to arrive than hoped.
“Per head of population, Australia is not even in the top 100 of nations in the world. We’ve got 60 per cent of adults vaccinated in the UK, 40 per cent in the US and barely two or three per cent here,” Mr Butler told ABC radio on Tuesday.
“We are running way behind schedule.”
He also criticised the government for not accelerating the rollout of the locally-made AstraZeneca doses.
Melbourne’s CSL plant has produced 3.3 million doses but only about 800,000 have been approved for use so far. The remainder are still awaiting batch testing by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Mr Butler urged the federal government to accelerate its timetable.
“The states are doing very well at vaccinating the people for whom they’re responsible, which are frontline health workers and, quarantine workers, and emergency services,” he said.
“But aged care is running way behind schedule. Only about 14 per cent of aged care facilities have been fully vaccinated. They were supposed to complete the entirety of the aged care sector last week.”
There are also calls for the federal government to be more transparent about the progress of the rollout.
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday that, as of April 5, there had been 854,983 vaccinations. The national cabinet of federal and state leaders is to meet this week, with expectations that agreements on data sharing and transparency will be locked in.
The Prime Minister said he hoped the meeting could agree on a “more data transparency” and more regular reporting. Currently, individual states are providing vaccine data in slightly different formats, at slightly different times.
“I think there is an interest and a keen appetite for more regular information. We are providing that weekly information but there is no reason why these figures can’t be done on a more regular basis,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Butler said the federal government “has got to do is stop pretending that everything is going great guns”.
“The two things we need more transparency and a greater sense of urgency. If those two things can come out of the national cabinet, and frankly, particularly from Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt, then the country will be served well,” he said.