Scott Morrison has shrugged off critics of his government’s slow vaccine rollout and insisted plans are on track, again turning to Facebook to reveal critical information about the nation’s much-maligned inoculation program.
The Prime Minister has come under fire for giving vaccine updates via social media instead of in-person press conferences, but Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the decision by saying the government wanted to give out information about scrapping vaccination targets “in real time”.
Twice in two days, Mr Morrison has used his Facebook page – which only has 626,000 followers – to announce vital updates to the COVID vaccination program.
On Sunday night, he admitted the government had abandoned plans to set any sort of vaccination targets.
Then on Monday, he went live on Facebook in a 10-minute video address that appeared to be an attempt to quell Australians’ concerns about the troublesome rollout.
The decision to use Facebook to announce the updates, instead of a standard press conference where he would face questioning, could be seen as a sign that Mr Morrison was concerned about the ways in which his explanations of the vaccine rollout were being filtered through the mainstream media.
Veteran political journalist Malcolm Farr claimed it was “to avoid accountability and transparency”.
Medical experts advised the AstraZeneca vaccine, the “workhorse” of Australia’s rollout, should not be given to under-50s without a compelling reason.
That blew a hole in the government’s already-slow rollout, with replacement doses from Pfizer not slated to arrive until the end of the year.
“We are rolling out our vaccination program now and a lot of people have had a lot to say about it,” said Mr Morrison, in a pointed rebuke to critics in politics and the medical community.
“But here are some simple facts. Around 1.2 million Australians have been vaccinated in the first seven weeks. Over that period of time, we’ve gone from around 30,000 a week to over 300,000 a week and that number continues to climb. That’s a tenfold increase in the rate of rolling our vaccine out in just the seven weeks, and it’s still going up.”
Australia ranks 76th in the world
Global vaccination data tables published by the Financial Times show Australia sitting around No.76 in the world, sandwiched between Guyana and Sri Lanka, with 4.6 doses of vaccine administered per 100 people.
That number is based on Monday’s statistics, of 1.178 million people vaccinated after seven weeks of the vaccine rollout.
Despite the low ranking, Mr Morrison claimed Australia’s rollout was “on par … or a bit better” than nations like Germany, Sweden and France at the same stage of the rollout.
Germany has now administered 17.6 million doses, Sweden 5.5 million, and France 5.4 million.
Mr Morrison also shrugged off comparisons to nations like the United States and United Kingdom, where hundreds of millions of doses have been distributed.
The Prime Minister said those countries “have access to vaccine doses that we do not have access to here in Australia.”
“In most other countries, that isn’t the opportunity, including here in Australia,” he protested, before making the case for why his government had dropped promises to vaccinate every citizen by October.
“One of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules. You don’t get to set the agenda. You have to be able to respond quickly to when things change,” he said.
“So rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro of international supply chains and other disruptions that can occur, we’re just getting on with it.”
‘Many ways to communicate’
Just minutes after the video was posted to Facebook, Labor leader Anthony Albanese tweeted claims that Mr Morrison “dodges blame”.
Two hours later, Mr Hunt appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 program to speak about vaccines.
He argued the vaccination of quarantine and frontline health workers, among the highest-risk groups for contracting COVID, “is overwhelmingly done”.
Mr Hunt also shrugged off claims from GPs that they were unsure about how many doses they would receive at their clinics going forward.
On Mr Morrison’s recent Facebook posts, the Health Minister conceded “there are many ways to communicate”.
“One of the approaches of the Prime Minister … has been to put out the medical advice and the information and the response in real time. That’s what we’ve sought to do with the Australian people,” Mr Hunt claimed.
Many Australians on social media had pointed out that Mr Morrison had said in February that people should not “go to Facebook to find out about the vaccine. Go to official government websites”.
Asked about this on 7.30, Mr Hunt laughed off the question.
“I think that was a channel of formal communication with formal advice, as opposed to the sort of rumours that some people might have,” he said.
“I think we’re all better than that.”