Australians vaccinated against COVID-19 overseas have urged the federal government to follow suit and expand mass vaccination to stadiums and shopping centre sites.
The mass-vaccination model is bringing success in Europe and North America, but the federal government says such a system is not needed in Australia, despite a slower than projected rollout.
“At the moment we don’t need that sort of system because we are rolling out the system effectively,” Professor Michael Kidd, acting federal chief medical officer, said on Monday.
The US is inoculating four million people a day against coronavirus, helped along by a strategy of taking over public spaces and converting them into vaccination sites, with hundreds or thousands of people filing through every hour.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” Josh, a former Sydney resident living in California, told The New Daily, a day after getting vaccinated in a shopping mall.
Mass vaccination sites are urgently needed. Current av. rate after last 6 weeks is just 22,000 doses/day. I calculate to have 85% population vaccinated by end of year we need 133,000/day every day from tomorrow to Dec 31 plus 70,000/day every day from Jan 1-Mar 31 2022.
— Mary-Louise McLaws (@MarylouiseMcla1) April 5, 2021
Rollout behind schedule
On a per capita basis, the 4,081,959 people vaccinated in the US on April 3 would equate to 311,000 Australians.
Last Thursday, Australia set a “new record” for shots in a single day, according to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, with 79,283 jabs.
That number is expected to climb in coming weeks, as the number of general practice clinics offering COVID vaccinations doubles to 3000, and nearly one million doses a week of the AstraZeneca vaccine roll off production lines at Melbourne’s CSL plant.
Mass vaccination model
Baseball and football stadiums, concert halls, convention centres, army bases and even Disneyland have been turned into American vaccine hubs.
Josh, who asked that TND not use his surname, got his first Pfizer vaccine dose last week in San Diego.
He lined up at an outdoor shopping centre, in a queue of about 200 people, to enter a converted shopfront where a private company was giving vaccines.
“It was very quick. I lined up for 15 minutes outside. But then you get inside, sit down and get jabbed, which took about two minutes,” he said.
Josh then had to wait another 15 minutes in a food court after the shot, for observation for any negative reactions.
He experienced none, beside a slightly sore shoulder, but said he had an “emotional high” after being jabbed.
He described the atmosphere as like a “party” or “fair day”, with balloons decorating the site and people being given stickers after their vaccination.
Samantha, another former Sydney resident living in California, recently got her first vaccine dose at a pharmacy in Los Angeles.
“I know of people in other parts of the country who have been vaccinated in bigger sites. I think as long as the sites are set up properly and all medical and non-medical staff are all trained it can be a really effective way to roll out vaccinations for masses of people,” she told TND.
“COVID is still such a big part of everyday life here and the US has such a large population, so the faster we can get everyone vaccinated, the sooner life begins to go back to normal.”
Samantha hoped the vaccine rollout would speed up in Australia.
“I would love for my family to be able to visit me and vice versa. The longer it takes to roll out in Australia, I can imagine the longer it’s going to be before any international travel is allowed, which just means more time away from my family,” she said.
Australian authorities, including health department secretary Brendan Murphy, have defended the pace of the rollout, protesting that there is no “burning platform” requiring urgent distribution.
States call for action
With Australia’s total vaccinations still well short of one million after six weeks of the rollout, and amid warnings from state leaders that the Morrison government’s October target may slip from reach, some are considering how to supercharge the scheme.
With millions vaccinated each day in the US, and Britain projecting to give every person at least a first dose by July, calls have grown for Australia to emulate their big mass vaccine sites.
In NSW, where Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been vocal in her concerns about targets being missed, the state government will reportedly open 36 such mass facilities.
Mooted locations include convention centres and outdoor arenas. ClubsNSW and Sydney Airport have offered spaces.
In Victoria, sites have been set up at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, and the Royal Exhibition Building.
The Victorian and NSW governments have called on the federal government to accept offers of help, and stump up cash to help states open more mass clinics.
But Professor Kidd resisted calls for further expansion, saying Commonwealth respiratory clinics were already working as “mass vaccination sites”.
“We have over 100 mass vaccination sites established across the country … many of those sites are providing very large numbers of vaccine doses every day,” he said.
“That works very well.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously rubbished such calls, saying in March, “we’re not going to put [people] in buses and take them off to military sites and have them herded into tents … No, they’re going to go to their GP”.
But expatriates overseas backed the mass model, saying they’d like to see mass vaccinations rolled out widely if it would help friends and family in Australia get jabbed faster.