Some of the nation’s leading health experts have poured cold water on the claim that all Australian adults will receive the COVID-19 vaccination by October, warning it could blow out into late 2022.
The roll-out is due to start late February and the federal government has touted October as the target month for inoculating all Australian adults.
“We expect that Australians will be fully vaccinated by the end of October, on the basis of it’s free, it’s universal, and it’s entirely voluntary,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said last December.
But new research from UNSW, which is yet to be peer-reviewed and was first published in The Conversation, has cast doubt over how realistic that timeframe is.
Australia will need to vaccinate 200,000 adults a day to have the whole population done by October, which would mean rapidly stepping up our health infrastructure, the modelling showed.
Research fellow at UNSW Dr Mark Hanly, who lead the modelling, said only one country in the world – Israel – had managed to vaccinate that many citizens each day.
“The average rate of 200,000 vaccines a day is a huge number, and if we look around the world not many countries are managing to hit this rate as yet,” he said.
“One example is Israel, where one-third of the population has been vaccinated in about six weeks.”
The time frame could easily blow out to July 2022, the modelling showed.
So far, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the rollout capacity will start at 80,000 per week and increase as the program goes on.
That would be 16,000 jabs a day (over five-day weeks), which is short of the required 200,000 a day to hit the October target.
Priority groups such as health-care and quarantine workers will receive the vaccine first, followed by the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over 55 and young people with medical conditions.
They will be followed by everyone over 50 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 18-54, before the rest of the adult population.
To achieve the October deadline Australia will need to adopt large-scale vaccination sites capable of delivering thousands of doses a week, said Professor of Global Biosecurity at UNSW Raina MacIntyre.
“It is obviously an enormous logistical task to vaccinate the whole population,” Professor MacIntyre told The New Daily.
It will require planning the delivery of vaccine to distribution hubs, protocols for ensuring the vaccine is kept at the correct temperature, training for a huge amount of staff, and IT infrastructure to monitor appointments, Professor MacIntyre said.
“The government needs to provide plenty of clear information, reassure people that the vaccine is safe and make it straightforward for people to get vaccinated in the community when their turn comes,” she said.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison announced Australia had secured an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The extra jabs take the country’s total vaccine supply to 150 million doses, some of which is intended to go to other countries in the Pacific.
The news comes as the federal government prepares to make its case to the World Health Organisation after the European Union threatened to block coronavirus vaccine shipments to some countries, including Australia.
If the vaccine is blocked from leaving Europe, it will drastically blow out Australia’s rollout timeframe, said ANU Professor of Infectious Diseases Peter Collignon.
“The timeline depends on approval and supply,” Professor Collignon said.
“We’re very likely to get all the people who most need to be vaccinated done, so the over 70s, those with underlying health conditions, front line and essential workers.
“That is feasible and very realistic, probably by mid-winter. The rest may take longer.”
The timeframe really depends on how many vaccines Australia has, Professor Collignon said.
“It depends on supply and what we’re going to do for our neighbours in the region who may have more COVID transmitting.”