More than four million COVID vaccine doses have been received by the federal government, but Australia’s sluggish rollout has meant less than 40 per cent of those shots have made it into people’s arms.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is pledging a “sprint” to vaccinate millions of younger people by the end of 2021.
But so far, the pace has been more brisk walk than sprint, with some states delivering less than 60 per cent of doses received.
The latest figures, shared with The New Daily by the Department of Health, underline why federal and state governments are anxious to rejig the vaccination plan. The latest idea is to radically reshuffle the planned timetable for jabs, bringing forward appointments for parts of the phase 2A group, which was not expected to be offered a vaccine until mid-year.
Currently, everyone over 70 – plus high-risk workers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55 – is eligible for a jab.
On Thursday, national cabinet is expected to tick off a plan to widen that eligibility to anyone over 50.
“There are strong, strong arguments for the bring forward of over 50s with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Mr Morrison said on Monday.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said national cabinet was planning “a big reset” on the rollout.
By vaccinating more people over 50 with the AstraZeneca shot earlier than planned, the federal government hopes to clear backlogs of people ahead of schedule. Once more Pfizer doses are available from October, Mr Morrison hopes there will be a “sprint” to give 12 million jabs to young people in the 12 weeks at the end of 2021.
Speed is something the rollout has lacked so far.
One million dose shortfall
Despite just 1.58 million shots actually being administered nationally, the federal health department’s latest figures showed Australia had received more than 4.1 million doses of vaccine as of April 14.
That includes 1.1 million doses of Pfizer and 714,000 doses of AstraZeneca imported from overseas, plus 2.3 million doses of AstraZeneca manufactured at Melbourne’s CSL plant, the department told TND on Monday.
The health department said it was receiving “regular” shipments of vaccine from overseas, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration is regularly approving new batches of local vaccine, so that number may have risen further by Tuesday.
But the latest figures on actual jabs in arms show just 1.586 million vaccinations had been given as of Sunday, April 18.
It is difficult to compare exactly vaccination figures, due to inconsistencies between state and federal data reporting, including how and when information is provided. But making an inexact comparison of 4.1 million doses available on April 14, and 1.586 million vaccinations given on April 18, means just 38 per cent of doses have actually gone into arms.
Part of this perceived shortfall is entirely reasonable. The federal government is holding back second doses of the two-shot Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots, so people can receive the full vaccination amount after several weeks.
That would mean, essentially, about 3.2 million doses have been either put in arms or are being held back in anticipation of shortly going into arms for a second dose.
But that, too, is still well short of the full number of doses delivered, and means nearly one million doses have not yet been fully utilised.
.@NormanSwan says there's a lot more vaccines in the country than what's being put in people's arms.
"And people on the ground are telling me they don't trust the figures. They think there's far more being held back than put in people's arms." pic.twitter.com/BI0Xaxz92B
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) April 19, 2021
“It just needs to loosen up. There’s quite a lot of vaccine in the country,” said the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan, on Tuesday.
Further information from the Department of Health, released Monday, showed a widely varying rate of vaccinations by state and territory governments.
As of April 18, states and territories had administered just 73 per cent of the total doses they’d been sent from the federal government. Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory lead the pack, giving out 98 and 97 per cent respectively of vaccines they had available.
NSW had given out 173,000 doses by Sunday, some 75 per cent of the doses it has been sent; Victoria is on 71 per cent, administering 164,000 of its received doses; while Queensland is on 70 per cent, with 122,000 jabs.
South Australia lags well at the back, giving out only 59 per cent of its jabs.
The department’s figures note the “dose utilisation” figure includes “a small [percentage of] wastage in line with international standards”.
Commonwealth health services have administered 939,000 doses in primary care plus aged and disability facilities, while 646,000 doses were given in state and territory-run health services.
“Deliveries from Pfizer are regular and will increase over the coming months. In total 40 million Pfizer doses throughout 2021,” the department told TND.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said the federal government’s vaccine plans had failed “every commitment, every promise that [Mr Morrison] set out.”
“What I have said we need… is a revised plan with clear time frames, clear milestones, that allow business and Australians more generally to plan their future,” he told the ABC on Monday.