The Morrison government is facing calls to drop its phased rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, with experts arguing that anyone who wants a shot should now be able to get one.
On Friday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he expected all aged care facilities to receive COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the day after it was reported residents in around 200 facilities were yet to get their first doses.
“We now have the vaccination program in the aged care facilities that, on all advice I have before joining you, is expected to have all facilities in Commonwealth residential aged care having been vaccinated by the end of today,” Mr Hunt told reporters.
But some vaccine experts have said that while it is a good start, it’s now time to open up the rollout to everyone.
Coronavirus vaccine eligibility is inconsistent across the states and territories.
Currently, everyone over 50 and those in phase 1a and 1b of the federal government’s rollout can access a shot.
But both the Northern Territory and South Australia have started vaccinating certain residents aged over 16, and now Victorians aged between 40 and 49 are able to get inoculated with the Pfizer shot at mass hubs.
Hunt downplays rollout issues
Mr Hunt sought to downplay fears the rollout is not gearing up fast enough, stressing that more than 52 per cent of over-70s had been vaccinated nationwide.
But aged care residents and industry’s workforce were in priority phase 1a of the rollout, which was meant to finish nearly two months ago.
More than 124,000 jabs were administered nationwide in the 24 hours leading up to Friday afternoon, but there are still serious concerns the rollout is not happening fast enough.
Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said it was time the phased rollout was dropped.
“We have to make it as easy as possible,” Professor Bennett told The New Daily.
“There are priority groups, but we shouldn’t stop everything waiting for them to finish. That way, it’ll never finish.”
‘Fast lanes’ at vaccine hubs
Professor Bennett said priority groups should still be allowed to access vaccines first, with a “fast lane” at mass vaccination hubs and GP clinics for those in vulnerable demographics.
But after that, if people want it, they should be given it, she said.
“We make sure the vaccine is getting into arms, not sitting on the shelves,” Professor Bennett said.
Alongside vaccine hesitancy, a key issue in the rollout has been the supply of vaccines.
The information about how many doses are available and where they are is not entirely transparent, but some health experts estimate there is likely not enough Pfizer shots to give everyone between 16 and 49 across the country.
But University of Queensland professor of medicine Paul Griffin said since we know more Pfizer shots are on the way we should be “strongly considering” ditching the phased rollout.
“It’s become confusing,” Professor Griffin said.
“There are so many people asking me about eligibility, how they find somewhere to go – if they can just walk up and get it – the nuts and bolts practicalities.
“We talk about hesitancy, but there are questions about confusion.”
Professor Griffin said it was time for a national campaign to dispel hesitancy and help generate community support for the vaccines on offer.
That sentiment was backed strongly by Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy, who said we need to bolster community spirit to get everyone vaccinated.
“For some people it’s become insular thinking. This outbreak is probably a good advert for understanding it’s about everybody else,” Dr Moy said.