Prime Minister Scott Morrison has walked back his comments on the coronavirus vaccine being as “mandatory as you could possibly make it” just hours after making the initial claims.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Morrison took to radio stations and TV programs across the country on Wednesday morning to spruik his government’s agreement with drug maker AstraZeneca that it hopes will make the British manufacturer’s COVID-19 vaccine available for free to Australians, if it is approved for human use.
“I would expect it to be as mandatory as you could possibly make it,” he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis.
But by 5pm, the Prime Minister has changed tact and said on Sydney radio station 2GB “it is not going to be compulsory to have the vaccine”.
“What we want to achieve is as much vaccination as we possibly can.”
The Morrison government has signed a “letter of intent” with AstraZeneca to secure the potential virus vaccine, which is being developed by Oxford University.
If the vaccine clears trials, the federal government would manufacture it and make it free for all Australians.
But that’s unlikely to be until at least 2021, Mr Morrison said.
The cost of the deal is commercial-in-confidence but Mr Morrison said Australia’s chequebook was open.
“We all know the cost of this, frankly, is not my primary consideration,” he said.
At least 90 per cent of the population would need to be immunised against the coronavirus for a vaccine to be effective.
Mr Morrison said he expected a backlash if the vaccine became compulsory, but he was prepared for it.
“I was the minister that established ‘No jab, no play’, so my view on this is pretty clear,” he said.
Parents who do not immunise their children risk losing family tax payments and access to childcare subsidies.
Later on Wednesday, 3AW’s Facebook page was flooded with comments opposing the vaccination.
“This is Australia, a democracy county (sic), you can’t make people have it,” wrote one follower.
“Who is he to say what we put into our bodies? How do I know what will happen to my kids in a few years time if they have the vaccine? Not going to risk it, sorry,” wrote another.
“So Australians will be the human trials?” wrote a third. “I research and look for reviews on all products I buy or consume. There will be no data on this vaccine because of the fast-tracking to be first. Will not be forced into guinea pig status so he can make a dollar.”
There were also broader conspiracy theories, with people sharing fears about Bill Gates and 5G.
“The grim reaper is in the house. Bill Gates must be rubbing his hands with all the billions of dollars that he will make,” wrote one person.
“Say no to vaccines and no to chips. They can’t force you,” wrote another.
Despite the opposition, acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said later on Wednesday he expected strong voluntary take-up of any vaccine that was approved for use.
“There will be very strong campaigns to encourage people and we’ve had experience before of linking vaccination with other programs, and all of those things will be looked at over time,” he said.
Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen was worried there was no proper deal yet, and that a viable vaccine remains still some time away.
Mr Morrison admitted there was no guarantee the vaccine would be successful. The government is continuing talks with other parties, and backing Australian researchers.
Other virus developments
Victoria’s daily coronavirus infections fell again on Wednesday, with 216 new cases and a further 12 fatalities.
It is the fourth day the state’s new cases have been below 300 – with 279 last Sunday, 282 on Monday and 222 on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s figure was the lowest in a month, Wednesday’s the lowest since July 13.
All of the 12 deaths confirmed on Wednesday were linked to aged care.
Victoria’s virus death toll is 363, and the national toll is 450.
Also on Wednesday, Mr Morrison again pushed back at claims the federal government should take responsibility for failing to protect Australia’s elderly from the coronavirus.
“We regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic, then public health, whether it gets into aged care, shopping centres, schools or anywhere else, then they are things that are for Victoria,” Mr Morrison told ABC breakfast television on Wednesday.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria still had 2050 active COVID cases linked to aged-care. Five were in public sector care and 2045 in the private sector.
NSW confirmed seven more virus infections on Wednesday, including a security guard from a Sydney quarantine hotel.
Queensland reported one case – in a traveller who had returned from Papua New Guinea and is in hotel quarantine.