There is a significant gap in Australia’s vaccination numbers that must be filled if all adults are to receive their first dose of the vaccine by October this year, an expert says.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted the program is still on track to meet the October target but modelling shows this won’t be possible unless there’s a significant ramp-up in numbers.
Economist and modeller Professor Quentin Grafton of Australian National University told news.com.au that authorities would have to deliver 90,000 vaccinations a day to have any chance of achieving this.
Currently authorities are delivering 70,000 at best.
Prof Grafton said that if Australia administered an average of 56,000 jabs a day, some Australians wouldn’t be getting their first jab until next year, and it may take as long as September next year for them to get their second jab.
“We are going slowly, there’s no question about that,” he said.
“So we’re going to have to speed up and do a lot better if we want to achieve that target.”
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Now that Australia has begun producing its own locally manufactured vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Prof Grafton says supply is not an issue.
“The issue is getting people in and getting them vaccinated,” he said.
Frustrations boiled over this week about the slow pace of the rollout, with federal and state authorities blaming each other while GPs complained of being unable to get more doses.
Port Stephens GP Super Clinic director Anna Davidson said they had spent about $25,000 on a new fridge and other improvements so they could vaccinate up to 500 patients a day.
Instead the clinic has been advised it will get 50 vaccines a week for the next 12 weeks, taking them up to July 1.
“We were pretty gobsmacked,” Dr Davidson told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas.
She said the clinic has 12,000 patients and at that rate it would take eight years to vaccinate the clinic’s own patients, let alone any other members of the community.
“Patients are angry,” she said, adding they had a full-time person dealing with phone calls about vaccine inquiries.
Mr Morrison has blamed the slow start on the decision of European authorities to block shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, leaving Australia 3.1 million doses short.
However, now the Australia’s own production is ramping up, there will be more vaccines to distribute and more scrutiny on the pace of the rollout.
AUSTRALIA CHOSE A SLOWER SYSTEM
Unlike other countries like the United Kingdom, United States and Israel, which have been battling large outbreaks and have introduced mass vaccination centres to speed up their vaccination rate, Australia is taking a different approach.
It plans to vaccinate people mostly through thousands of GP clinics but this appears to have added to the complexity of distribution.
Prof Grafton said the logistics of coordinating the delivery of the vaccine to so many clinics was certainly a slower process but it may have benefits.
“The thing about going through GPs is that maybe more people get vaccinated because people are comfortable going to GPs and they are trusted by people,” he said.
He said people may feel less comfortable about going to mass vaccination centres.
“But clearly if we want to vaccinate people quickly, we need to have these vaccination stations, not just GPs,” Prof Grafton said.
The rate of vaccination will have implications for when Australia will be able to open up its borders, and could also be a problem if there was a big outbreak.
“That’s the issue with the speed of the rollout, if there is an outbreak and fatalities then the slowness of the vaccination program will have dire consequences,” he said.
He said achieving 90,000 jabs a day instead of 56,000, would see Australians get their first jab several months earlier.
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In a press conference on March 24, Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the GP model and noted that not every country had a primary health network that was set up to distribute vaccinations.
“Australia, because of its diffuse and diverse and regional population does have that network where our GPs are effectively vaccination clinics in every town in every state,” he said.
“The focus on the needs of the elderly … the focus on people with disability and in particular, with chronic disease or who are immunocompromised means seeing their doctors is so fundamental.”
He said Commonwealth and state vaccination clinics would also be used.
ANGER AS STATES BLAMED
More than five weeks since the vaccination program got underway, questions were raised about why some frontline workers had not yet got their first jab, after an unvaccinated nurse in Queensland got COVID, eventually sparking a lockdown.
The blame game kicked off on Wednesday when federal minister David Littleproud pointed the finger at the states and territories in a TV interview.
He said state authorities had “left these (jabs) on the rack when they could’ve put them into people’s arms” and they needed have confidence in the supply chain and “pull their finger out”.
It had earlier emerged that Queensland was holding back some of its doses as a “contingency” even though the Federal Government was already doing this.
However, Mr Littleproud’s comments sparked an angry response from Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles, who accused the Morrison Government of launching an attack on the states and territories every time it wanted to deflect from its own failings.
Mr Miles pointed out on Thursday that Queensland only had three days’ supply of the Pfizer vaccine and 12 days’ supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state needed guaranteed supply and guaranteed times of delivery. She pointed to the example of Gold Coast University Hospital, where doses of the vaccine had arrived just in time for vaccinations.
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The Federal Government were also in the firing line from NSW, after figures on the vaccine rollout were printed in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
The figures revealed NSW had only administered about 50 per cent of the 190,610 doses it has received, while Queensland had administered about 55 per cent.
The report was based on data about the total number of vaccines the states had on March 29, compared to how many had been delivered the day before.
Mr Hazzard said he was angry the “misleading” figures, which look to have come from the government, had been released.
“Let me make it very clear, I am as angry as I have ever been in this 15 months of war against this virus. All governments in Australia should be working together,” he said.
He said NSW was under the impression it would only get 13,000 doses from the Federal Government last week, but then got 45,000 without any notice.
“A few days later there is a press report saying we haven’t distributed them all,” he said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was “extremely unfair” to be given 24 or 48 hours notice about how many doses they would get.
“As you can appreciate, disseminating that within 24 hours or 48 hours is a difficult task,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“When we get enough notice we are able to get out 90 per cent of what we have or more within a week.
“I don’t want there to be a perception that there is all these doses sitting there and the states aren’t rolling them out. That is the wrong perception and it is the wrong fact.”
UNCLEAR HOW MANY VACCINES ARE AVAILABLE
Information about the vaccination rollout is also patchy and figures are not always updated daily by the Federal Government, or some states and territory governments.
According to media announcements made over the past couple of months, Australia has access to at least 1.8 million vaccine doses.
Around 301,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia across two shipments, and 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made it into the country before Europe blocked further shipments. Australia has also produced about 830,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine locally.
However, not all of these are being released for distribution as about half the supply would have been held as “contingency” to ensure enough doses were available for people to get their second doses.
Even so, it looks as if less than half of the 1.8 million doses — about 670,000 so far — have been administered.
It was reported by The Australian on Wednesday, that only a third of residential aged and disability care facilities had received doses of the vaccine, an area the Commonwealth is responsible for.
Authorities expect the total number of vaccinations in Australia will reach one million by the end of the week, but this falls far short of the four million vaccinations authorities had predicted would be in Australians’ arms by the end of March.
The number of locally produced AstraZeneca jabs was expected to rise to around one million doses by March, although it’s unclear whether this has been achieved. It’s also unclear how many doses already produced have been released for distribution.
On March 24, Health Minister Greg Hunt said about 830,000 AstraZeneca doses had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with a total of about 3.3 million doses expected to be produced within the next three and a half weeks.
Mr Hunt said about 500,000 doses a week would eventually go out and this should double within 12 weeks, once enough had been stockpiled for the contingency supply.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told the ABC’s Fran Kelly on Thursday more than 72,000 doses were delivered on Wednesday, and authorities expected to be vaccinating 400,000 people a week within the next few weeks.
However, at this pace, it would take until almost the end of May — almost two months — to bring total vaccinations to four million.
The Federal Government has previously said it expected to have delivered six million vaccinations by mid-May.
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