Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised for Australia’s vaccine rollout falling consistently short of its targets but insists some of the issues were out of his control.
Mr Morrison had repeatedly refused to say sorry for the bungled immunisation program, which is lagging behind most of the developed world.
He was grilled on FM radio on Wednesday after the issue, but still fell short of the “sorry” word. On Thursday, he went a bit further, saying some things to do with COVID vaccination were within his government’s control but others weren’t.
“I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year, of course I am,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.
“But what’s more important is that we’re totally focused on ensuring that we’ve been turning this around.”
The qualified apology came as Mr Morrison announced more pharmacies would soon join the vaccination rollout.
More than 110 have started administering AstraZeneca jabs across Australia but that is expected to rise to about 470 within weeks. Mr Morrison said the expansion slated for September would be brought forward to mid-August.
Chemists will also be given access to Pfizer and Moderna doses when enough are available, likely in September.
A record 184,000 vaccine doses were administered in the past 24 hours, but just over 14 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 is fully vaccinated.
The rollout started almost five months ago but the government has been forced to dump multiple targets it set for itself, including completing the program by October.
Former cabinet minister Darren Chester was the first federal government MP to issue an apology, hours before Mr Morrison.
“I’m sorry it’s taken longer than people expected, and I’m sorry that some people have lost confidence in our government and our world-class health system as a result,” he posted on Facebook on Thursday.
“I humbly apologise and commit to keep working with my great staff to improve the rollout in Gippsland and across Australia.”
Mr Chester said media focusing on the tiny number of adverse reactions to AstraZeneca had damaged the vaccine’s reputation.
However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also appears reluctant to repeat the s-word. He resisted pressure from Today show host Karl Stefanovic in a fiery interview on Thursday morning.
“The Prime Minister said yesterday he has regret for initially saying the vaccine rollout was not a race. Josh, why not just say sorry?” Mr Stefanovic said.
The Treasurer argued: “He has accepted responsibility and most importantly is putting in place the solutions that is required to roll out that vaccine as quickly as possible.”
Mr Frydenberg said Mr Morrison said helped save tens of thousands of lives with his government’s response to the pandemic, and claimed Australia’s economic recovery has been stronger and faster than seen almost anywhere else.
“People are angry. People are frustrated. The PM won’t say sorry. Are you prepared to say sorry for the rollout?” Stefanovic said again.
“Well, we accept responsibility … that’s even more important,” Mr Frydenberg said.
On Thursday, there were reports of two more Australian fatalities involving the rare blood-clotting clot linked to the shot. There have now been six deaths in Australia as a result – from more than six million doses given.
Almost 40,000 people under 40 have received the AstraZeneca jab since Mr Morrison encouraged people a month ago to talk with a doctor about taking it.
Mr Morrison continues to challenge the nation’s expert immunisation panel to reconsider advice which recommends AstraZeneca only for over-60s.
There were 124 new local cases of coronavirus in NSW on Thursday, the highest since the outbreak began.
Health authorities are bracing for numbers to go even higher with at least 70 people in Thursday’s numbers spending some time in the community while infectious.
Victoria also had its highest daily total of its current outbreak with 26 new local cases. Only two were in the community while infectious.
South Australia’s outbreak grew to 14 infections, all of the Delta variant.