Fewer than 10 per cent of Australians have received a coronavirus vaccine as the federal government prepares to expand the rollout to all over-50s from May.
The sluggish immunisation program continues to come under fire with national cabinet agreeing to a major reset in a bid to salvage its progress.
AstraZeneca jabs will be available for people over 50 at state and territory vaccination centres as well as respiratory clinics from May 3 before being sent to all GPs from May 17.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was a once-in-a-lifetime challenge as he reflected on the number of Australians to receive a shot in the program’s first two months.
“You’re looking at about 9 per cent of the adult population in terms of vaccinations and then that’s increasing every day,” he told the ABC on Friday.
In contrast, the US has vaccinated more than half of its adult population while Britain is sitting on 63 per cent.
Nearly 1.8 million Australians have been vaccinated, with about 60,000 doses administered each day.
Medical advice recommending AstraZeneca be avoided for people under 50 due to extremely rare but serious blood clots has hampered the rollout’s pace.
Mr Hunt said there had been massive death rates in the countries outstripping Australia on immunisation progress.
“The rest of the world, a raging global pandemic. Australia, an island sanctuary,” he told Nine.
“At the same time we are pushing forward with these vaccinations as quickly as possible, but always as safely as possible.”
A catastrophic outbreak has sparked a cut in repatriation and direct flights from India to Australia.
India tallied more than 314,000 new infections in one day according to its most recent figures, a grim pandemic world record.
Travel exemptions to India will be tightened and people returning will need to be tested for coronavirus.
“India is going through a terrible agony at the moment,” Mr Hunt said.
“We have two roles – one is obviously first and foremost to protect the country. Secondly, to help bring Australians home.”
Other countries could also be included in the restrictions, once Australia drafts its high-risk nation list with Britain’s ratings being used as a guide.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said India’s situation highlighted the need to vaccinate all Australians sooner.
“This rollout has been botched. We are still in a situation where we’re not looking at getting the country vaccinated by the end of the year,” he told Nine.
“We are going to be more exposed to these sort of questions about countries like India, where the virus is running rampant.”