News Coronavirus The generals in our war on COVID all agree: Australia needs specific vaccine targets

The generals in our war on COVID all agree: Australia needs specific vaccine targets

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Health experts have called on the federal government to provide the public with more detailed targets and timelines for vaccinating and reopening Australia.

The nation’s recovery from the pandemic relies heavily on the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to arrive in bulk before the end of the year.

Health minister Greg Hunt this week sought to dampen concerns over the pace of the rollout by announcing the government had secured 2.8 million doses for July and 32.6 million shots before the end of the year.

Mr Hunt said it was an increase of 400,000 compared to what had been expected.

On Friday, there were 151,496 vaccines administered, marking a five-day total of 746,983.

“This is very heartening for the nation,” Mr Hunt said.

But public health expert Bill Bowtell, an adjunct professor at the University of NSW, told The New Daily there needs to be more transparency on how many doses we currently have, and what’s arriving.

“We’ve placed the orders, but it’s coming month-by-month subject to availability,” Adjunct Professor Bowtell said.

“The question is how many vaccines will arrive next month? And the month after that?  And by what date will we all be vaccinated?”

He said the public deserved detailed targets on what percentage of adults would need to be vaccinated for international borders to reopen and a firm target date to see that happen.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that for the country to move into the “post-vaccination phase” of National Cabinet’s roadmap out of the pandemic we need to reach a “threshold of vaccination”.

He said that number would be set by modelling done in conjunction with the Doherty Institute.

“It’s hard to give you a definitive answer because we haven’t set what that target is,” Mr Morrison said.

“We would seek to do that, I hope over the course of the next month, and I think that will give us a better indication.”

Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at the University of NSW and member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 response team, has been doing her own calculations.

“I’ve estimated we need a minimum of 80 per cent of 12-years-and-older, which equates to 67 per cent of the total population,” Professor McLaws said.

To get that done we need to be administering 155,000 injections every day, she said.

Rollout ‘war games’

Last month the federal Health Department released its ‘vaccination allocation horizons’ forecasts, showing the government anticipates between 30 and 37 million vaccine doses will arrive between July and September. 

This week Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the COVID vaccination task force, said the states would be running through “war game” practice to make sure the rollout is smooth when they arrive. They will look at holes in the system and work out how best to administer the vaccines.

“Many of the jurisdictions have very different requirements, many have remote areas, many have particular challenges that we will work with them to understand how we can best serve each of those jurisdictions in their own requirements,” General Frewen said.

“But by next week we will be fully aligned and I’m very confident we will be very well postured to meet our aim of having all those Australians who want access to vaccines this year able to do so.”

Mr Hunt said the federal government’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has already started working with state counterparts on vaccination targets.

“We will get the medical advice shortly through the course of the work of the Doherty Institute and that will also be shared, of course, with the chief health officers,” he said.

“And that provides the pathway to progressive normalisation.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese slammed the government’s plan on Saturday.

“It should have always been the plan. It should have been a race. It’s taken [the PM] 18 months to realise it. And Australians are paying the price for his complacency,” Mr Albanese said on Twitter.