In December last year when Australia was on the cusp of approving not one, but two COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Greg Hunt made a huge deal about wanting to “underpromise and overdeliver.” Fast-forward to mid-2021 and the government has apparently resigned itself to doing neither.
After setting smaller and smaller goals – all the while fanning the flames of confusion as to who can get what vaccines, and when – Australia’s vaccine rollout has gone completely off the rails.
Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, and we’re among the least-affected by the pandemic. Yet around 90 or so countries have vaccinated a larger portion of their population than we have.
People in those countries are, of course, no less deserving of being vaccinated than we are (you could even argue they should be vaccinated more urgently) but the fact Australia has completely fucked this whole thing up when we had almost every factor on our side just shows how ineptly the government has handled the rollout.
Here’s your guide to how we got where we are today.
A timeline of what went wrong
Australia was already late to the vaccine game because our regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Association, didn’t want to rush to give the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots emergency approval like other countries did.
This seemed fine at the time. People in other countries were dying, whereas there was no real emergency here. It felt like we could wait for the full approval process to play out, just like with all other vaccines and medicines.
In January 2021, the Pfizer vaccine was provisionally approved. The government had ordered 10 million doses from overseas, the first 80,000 of which were supposed to arrive in February for the elderly and frontline health workers. That’s the same month the first Aussie got their jab, alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved shortly after, and it was supposed to be manufactured in Melbourne. This was supposed to be the vaccine for the rest of us.
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) February 21, 2021
Australia doesn’t have the facilities to make the Pfizer vaccine, which also has to be transported and stored at -70ºC. The AstraZeneca vaccine, on the other hand, is being manufactured locally and only needs to be stored and transported at between 2ºC and 8ºC.
But while local manufacturing was just getting up and running, the European Union threw a spanner in the works by blocking a shipment of 250,000 doses from Italy to Australia in early March. Australia claimed that even more shipments were also blocked due to the EU’s informal legal wrangling. It wasn’t until late March that the first locally-made doses were actually dispatched.
Surprise! Some people were able to jump the queue. Then came the reports of blood clots.
Amid the local clusterfuck that was unravelling in March, reports emerged from Europe of a potential link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare and particularly-dangerous kind of blood clot. By April, the blood clots were formally considered to be a rare but real side effect. The link is still being investigated but it’s believed to affect roughly 1 in 100,000 vaccine recipients, which makes it statically safer than drugs like the pill, for example.
Still, it was enough to spook people. The federal government ultimately came out and said young people, who are generally less vulnerable to the symptoms of COVID-19, will be given the Pfizer vaccine, while everyone above 50 would be better off taking the AstraZeneca vaccine right now.
Out of an abundance of caution, the NSW government even paused its AstraZeneca rollout. When the rollout resumed, not much was done to rebuild the public’s trust.
The government wasn’t wrong, but the way everything was announced, largely via unclear press conferences, meant the boomers panicked. And who could blame them?
What has the government promised (or lied about)?
In January, before vaccinations even started, Scott Morrison said he wanted to see 80,000 doses given in the first week (we only hit 30,000) before hitting four million people by March.
Two weeks later that four million target was pushed back to April.
Then, days later, Health Minister Greg Hunt came out and said: “Our goal is very clear and our advice is very clear that we aim to have the country [20 million adults] vaccinated before the end of October.”
As late as March, Morrison reiterated this goal to have the nation vaccinated by October.
However by April, the government decided to scrap the idea of vaccination targets altogether.
In a Facebook post, of all things, Morrison literally gaslit the country by saying: “The Government has also not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses. While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.”
Of course there are uncertainties, but the pandemic’s natural tumult hasn’t hindered other countries to the extent it has hindered Australia. And besides, these uncertainties would’ve (or at least should’ve) been taken into account in those initial goals set months earlier.
To muddy the waters further, Greg Hunt recently went on Sunrise and had a bit of a stoush with host Natalie Barr about where we’re at in terms of numbers.
Barr pointed out that only around 2% of Aussies had been vaccinated by the end of May, which is pretty abysmal.
Hunt then deflected by going off on some tangent about “20% of the Australian adult population equivalent” getting jabbed, which is neither the amount of shots administered to the adult population, nor does it reflect they tiny number of fully vaccinated people. It’s a nonsense phrase designed to confuse viewers.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) May 27, 2021
Scott Morrison has repeatedly said “it’s not a race” when to comes to vaccinating Australia. Acting PM Michael McCormack even reiterated this point as recently as late May. But the thing is, we are in a race.
A race to save lives. A race to open the borders and let people come home. A race against a global fucking pandemic. Call it what you want, but time really is of the essence.
What’s the plan now, then?
The government’s most recent goal is for every adult to have their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.
We have a few things on our side in this respect.
Firstly, the state governments are stepping up. Both NSW and Victoria, for example, have built new megaclinics to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Then there’s the fabled Novavax vaccine, which is still undergoing trials and hasn’t been approved for use anywhere yet.
But if it does get approved, the government has already bought enough doses of that, too, to cover the whole country if need be.
Finally, a 12-week vaccination blitz is supposedly going to get young Aussies vaccinated at the end of the year. Let’s see how that one pans out without fingers tightly crossed.
Scott Morrison’s vaccine failures puts us all at risk.
This continues a series of videos showing his lack of action is hurting all Australians.
He doesn’t care about us, aged care workers or residents.
He does care about his spin.
— Luke Hilakari (@lhilakari) June 1, 2021
What’s the go with aged care workers?
In the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne, at least two aged care workers (and one resident) tested positive for the virus. This is not good, as older people are the most at-risk when it comes to symptoms.
There are roughly 190,000 disability and aged care residents across Australia, plus around 320,000 workers. The government aimed to have them all vaccinated within the first six weeks but that clearly didn’t go to plan.
The federal government now admits it doesn’t have a record of which aged care workers have been vaccinated. The New Daily reports around 33,000 workers (roughly 9% of the workforce) are confirmed to have been fully vaccinated.
The government insists the figure should be closer to 70,000 if you include workers who got jabbed at mass clinics, for example, but it doesn’t know for sure. And besides, even 70,000 is a shockingly low figure.
It was even revealed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that 21 nursing homes around Australia don’t have any staff who’ve received the jab.
The Victorian government has taken things into its own hands by launching a five-day aged care worker/resident vaccination blitz starting on Wednesday, June 2.
There’s really not much many of us can do, other than abiding by the COVID-safe measures we’ve grown to know and love over the past 12 months.
But if you can, get vaccinated. You can check if you’re eligible here.