While the sluggish pace of the Morrison government’s vaccine rollout has caused widespread public dissatisfaction, a growing number of Australians are keen to get a COVID-19 jab, new research shows.
In an effort to boost the rollout, the government announced on Wednesday it would ramp up the number of weekly AstraZeneca doses provided to GPs across the nation.
Starting next week, participating GPs will receive 150 doses of the vaccine per week, up from 50, while GPs currently getting 100 doses will receive 200, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
While the government’s handling of the rollout has come under fire, the number of Australians who say they would get a ‘safe and effective’ vaccine has increased since the start of the year, an Australian National University study revealed this week.
In January, only 43.7 per cent of Australians polled said they would definitely get a safe vaccine, with the number rising to 54.7 per cent in April, researchers from ANU’s Centre for Social Research and Methods found.
Despite the increase, the researchers warned there are still ‘key population groups’ who remain hesitant about getting a vaccine.
“While willingness to take a hypothetical safe and effective vaccine has remained high, there is a large proportion of Australians who are concerned about possible side effects if they do take a vaccine,” the paper said.
Groups with higher rates of vaccine hesitancy included women, those who lived in relatively disadvantaged areas, those who spoke English as a second language, and those who lived outside a capital city.
The study also showed “for the first time in Australia that experiences of discrimination are associated with higher rates of vaccine hesitancy”.
Of the people who said they would not take a hypothetical COVID-19 vaccine, 63 per cent cited concerns about side effects as the main reason.
Rollout handling a headache for government
After missing its target of four million jabs by the end of March, the Morrison government refused to set new targets for having the nation inoculated against COVID-19.
As of May 4, nearly 2.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Australia.
The ANU study found nearly two in three adult Australians (64 per cent) thought the rollout was not being handled well by the federal government.
By contrast, a tiny 3.7 per cent of adults thought the process for individuals getting the vaccine was going very well.
Study co-author Nicholas Biddle said the findings were “extremely important” as the government “attempts to reconcile public sentiment and confidence in its vaccine program at a time when there are questions about how fast it is being delivered across our community”.
The study also showed a link between political views and attitudes to the rollout.
“Those who had said they would vote for a party grouping other than the Coalition were less likely to think the process was going well,” Professor Biddle said.
“While still under half of the population, 45.3 per cent of those who said they would vote for the Coalition said the vaccine process was going well.
“This declines to 29.9 per cent among Australians who said they would have voted Labor, 27 per cent of those who said they would have voted for the Greens, 33.3 per cent of those who would have voted for an ‘other’ party, and 25 per cent of those who did not know who they would vote for.”
US rollout goes from strength to strength
While Australia’s vaccine rollout has been plagued with delays, the United States’ is going from strength to strength.
A staggering 247 million COVID jabs have already been administered in the US, with around one third of the population (106 million people) fully vaccinated.
The Biden administration’s latest goal is to immunise 70 per cent of American adults at least partially by July 4.
Americans polled on their vaccine rollout were far more likely than Australians to think the process was going very well or somewhat well, the ANU study found.
However, Australians were also more willing than their US counterparts to help other countries get vaccinated first.
“Unlike in the US when asked in February, most Australians in April think that Australia should help ensure that people in developing countries have access to coronavirus vaccines, even if it means some people in Australia need to wait longer to get vaccines,” the ANU paper said.
The US is racing to inoculate young Americans, with the Food and Drug Administration expected to grant emergency use allowing the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate children aged between 12 and 15.
Pfizer also revealed plans to apply for emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration to give its coronavirus vaccine to kids aged between two and 11.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration is yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccines for children.
The Pfizer vaccine has been provisionally approved for those 16 years and older.