The federal government has again defended “hiccups” in the vaccine rollout amid complaints of disorganisation and a slower-than-expected rollout.
Federal Liberal MP Jason Falinski stood firm for the government on Saturday when Labor MP and shadow environment spokesman Josh Wilson said it had failed in “basic administrative competence”.
Mr Wilson argued there had been plenty of time to ensure the vaccine booking system worked, that enough vaccine doses were being distributed and that people were being prompted to have the jab.
He likened it to organising a child’s birthday party. “You make sure that the email address on the party invite actually works. You don’t invite 30 children if you can only get 10 in the pool,” he said.
Mr Falinski rejected the analogy, saying the vaccine was being rolled out to 25 million people.
“There will be hiccups along the way in the rollout of this vaccine,” he told ABC News.
“We have zero community transmission so we can get take the time to get this right.”
He sung the government’s praises for ensuring the vaccine is produced domestically, unlike Canada, which remains at the whim of overseas facilities.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan also lauded that decision by the federal government, as the European Union threatens to block exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We’ve been talking with the EU about this,” he told reporters.
“We’ve obviously got a very strong point of view as to what the EU should do. (But) the domestic supply is absolutely critical. It won’t be too long until we’re producing nearly a million doses a week.”
More than 250,000 virus jabs have been administered in Australia so far, a long way off the four million Prime Minister Scott Morrison said would be complete by the end of March.
Doctors say the federal government should have tempered expectations of a fast COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as they reassure patients they will get their jabs.
Mr Morrison held a roundtable meeting with peak medical bodies in Melbourne on Friday to discuss the country’s biggest ever vaccination program.
The next phase of the vaccination rollout begins on Monday, and includes people aged over 70, Indigenous Australians over 55, younger adults with a medical condition or disability, and workers deemed at critical or high risk.
The effort will involve more than 1000 GP practices and 100 Commonwealth clinics.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the government should have been clearer with the public that 6.5 million people would not be able to get their jab in the first week when the country only has 200,000 doses.
One new case of coronavirus has been recorded in Western Australia, in a returned traveller who is in hotel quarantine.
The state currently has 13 active cases, the Department of Health said on Saturday.
On Friday, 2437 people were vaccinated. To date, 30,571 West Australians have received a COVID vaccine.
GPs around the country have been concerned they will not receive their supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in time, with many saying their fridges remain empty just days before the start of the next phase of the rollout.
Former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal told the ABC that as of Friday night, he still had not received any vaccine from the federal government, and said GPs had been wrongly blamed for delays in the rollout.
“We’ll find a way of getting some vaccine and we’ll make this happen on Monday,” Mr Haikerwal told the ABC.
“We’re not going to let this fail, vaccinations are the single most important thing we can do this year.
We’ve been doing this for generations and we’ll keep doing it, but it’s no thanks to the avenues we’ve had to put up with.”
He said GPs had been wrongly blamed by the federal government for the delays in the vaccination rollout.
“We live in hope that the stock coming from the federal authorities will arrive, but if it doesn’t, I’ll have to find an alternative source because I really need to get on with the vaccinations. Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.
Australia’s slow rollout comes as a number of EU countries have again started rolling out the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after receiving new safety assurances from the European Union’s medicines regulator.
The vaccinations resumed in several states in Germany while in neighbouring France Prime Minister Jean Castex was injected with the AstraZeneca formulation in front of TV cameras.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also received his first dose of the AstraZeneca jab on Friday and urged the public to do the same, saying “he did not feel a thing”.
The UK was not among the countries to halt the use of the vaccine.
Governments are trying to bolster damaged public confidence in the vaccine after its use was halted starting late last week in several Nordic countries over cases of blood clots in a handful of recipients.
Then other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain ordered their own pauses to the AstraZeneca jab pending a new assessment by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The regulator said on Thursday evening that the vaccine was “safe and effective” after an extensive review of possible blood clot risks.
The EMA concluded that the vaccine was not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots, although it could not definitively rule out a link between cases of rare, serious clotting disorders, mostly in younger women.
With that asterisk still hanging over the jab, France and Germany were among the countries to issue advice on who should get it.
France’s top health authority on Friday recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only for people over the age of 55 due to the possible increased risk of a certain type of brain clot in younger people.
In Germany, authorities have issued a warning for women under the age of 55 that it may be associated with a risk of cerebral blood clots.
Italy, Latvia and Bulgaria were also to start administering the vaccine again on Friday, although other EU countries such as Spain, Denmark and Sweden said they would need a few more days to study the EMA’s findings.
Finland, meanwhile, said on Friday that, as a precaution, it would temporarily suspend it after two cerebral venous thrombosis cases were reported within four to 10 days after inoculation.
Both patients have medical risk factors associated with vascular thrombosis and analysis was ongoing, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said.
Unlike neighbouring Norway and Sweden, Finland had not previously halted use of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, India’s financial capital Mumbai is facing a second wave of COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm its health facilities, doctors said on Friday, after a record daily increase in cases in its home state Maharashtra.
New infections in India rose on the day by the highest in more than three months, heralding a return of school closures, shopping restrictions and other virus-fighting measures in parts of the world’s worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.