Scott Morrison has admitted the government is unable to set “any new targets for completing first doses” of the COVID vaccine, admitting defeat on his October deadline.
The admission potentially pushes to 2022 the timeline for some Australians to get their first jab.
It follows days of bruising recalibrations for the federal government, with medical advice against the use of the AstraZeneca for under-50s and Pfizer only committing to deliver its doses in the final stretch of the year.
“We won’t even be through the first generation of vaccines when other countries are looking at boosters,” Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler said.
“We really can’t have a situation where vaccines are rolling out into next year, which seems to be the Prime Minister’s thinking.”
Mr Morrison’s abrupt about face on a vaccine timetable – or lack thereof – came just hours after Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the government “definitely” planned to give everyone a first dose of the two-shot immunisations by the end of 2021.
“That’s definitely the aim. That’s the goal that we’ve set is to try and have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year,” Mr Tehan told Sky News on Sunday.
“But we have to remember that we’re dealing with a pandemic. Things can change … so we’ve set ourselves a goal. That’s what we’ll be aiming to achieve.”
The PM later contradicted Mr Tehan, saying the government had “not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses”.
The announcement was made in a post on Mr Morrison’s Facebook page.
“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,” he wrote.
“We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible.”
Australia had vaccinated 1.16 million people by Sunday, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Asked about the October deadline, Mr Hunt would only say that the government’s goal was to have all Australians “vaccinated as early as possible”.
The federal government had initially promised “full” vaccination of Australians by the end of October, later shifting that pledge to giving everyone at least their first shot by then.
Last week’s health advice that the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to younger people without a compelling reason blew a hole in those plans.
With little other vaccine options to vaccinate the eight million people under 50 in Phase 2b of the rollout, questions were immediately asked as to how the federal government could meet its self-imposed October target.
Even after the order of another 20 million Pfizer doses were announced on Friday, Mr Morrison shrugged off questions about the target.
“We’re not in a position at the moment to reconfirm a timetable. We’re not in that position,” the PM said at the time, promising a “recalibration” of the rollout.
Mr Butler, in a tweet shortly after Mr Morrison’s statement on Sunday, called the rollout “a shambles”.
“[Mr Morrison] refused to guarantee that people would even receive first doses by Christmas,” he told the ABC’s Insiders.
“Against the Prime Minister’s advice that this is somehow not a race, we think there is a time imperative here.”
Mr Morrison’s Facebook post also shared graphs comparing Australia’s vaccine rollout speed to other nations.
After 45 days, health department stats showed Australia had administered 4.5 vaccines per 100 population.
The United Kingdom was at 13 per 100, with the US at 11 per 100 at the same stage.
The graph showed Australia vaccinating citizens at a rate faster than France, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan after 45 days.
It comes after sustained criticism of the slow speed of Australia’s rollout.
Last week, American President Joe Biden announced every adult in the US would get access to a vaccine by April 19.
About 4.63 million jabs were administered in the US on Friday.