The government’s bungled COVID vaccine rollout is facing another setback, with a major distribution point not coming online as expected.
The government’s bungled COVID vaccine rollout is facing another setback, with a major distribution point not coming online as expected.

New blow to Australia’s vaccine hopes

Things continue to go from bad to worse for Australia's bungled COVID-19 vaccine rollout, with a major distribution point for potentially millions of recipients not coming online as scheduled.

The Morrison Government is under increasing pressure over its handling of the program, plagued by confusion, miscommunication, delays and significant supply shortfalls.

A commitment to have vaccinated four million people by the end of March fell well short by some 3.4 million doses, and while the Prime Minister's office blames the export blockage from Europe, its own revised timeline is still behind by more than one million shots.

The government now can't say when the first phase of the rollout - prioritising health workers, hotel quarantine staff and aged care residents - will be complete.

It also won't reaffirm a promise that all Australians who want a vaccine will have one by October.

Now, in a fresh blow, it's been announced the activation of pharmacies as vaccination spots will be delayed by at least a month.

RELATED: Australia's vaccination gap revealed as frustrations over slow rollout boil over

Pharmacists were due to join the rollout from Phase 2a, which sees Australians aged over 50 become eligible, this month.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia now says it's unlikely to be before June - a delay that's highly likely to have significant ripple effects for the rollout.

Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey told The Australian that 97 per cent of Australians live within 2.5km of a pharmacy, making it a convenient place to go for a jab.

 

Confusion and mixed messages

Critics of the government's plan say it has put all of its eggs in one basket by so far relying solely on GP clinics to administer doses to the general public.

The Grattan Institute's Dr Stephen Duckett said mass vaccination sites should be a major part of the rollout, along with pharmacies and GPs.

"Involvement of GPs was the right call - it's good for doctors to provide a comprehensive range of services to their patients - but reliance on GPs was the mistake," Dr Duckett wrote in The Conversation.

"GP clinics rarely have the space for significant numbers of people waiting to be vaccinated and to be observed after being vaccinated.

"Mass vaccination requires large centres such as sports venues and town halls."

But yesterday, acting chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd rubbished the idea of mass vaccination centres here in Australia, saying they weren't needed "because we are rolling out the vaccine very effectively through the systems we already have".

That's at odds with a claim made by Prime Minister's office that the government was already planning for mass vaccination sites from Phase 2a onwards.

RELATED: PM needs to accept Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an 'unmitigated disaster': experts

The government is confident that the local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by CSL in Melbourne will significantly boost supply and accelerate the rollout.

But yesterday, Professor Kidd was unable to say when its almost two million stockpiled doses will be approved by regulators and deployed.

"We are going through our same rigorous processes with the Therapeutic Goods Administration with ensuring the safety and the quality of every batch of vaccine which has been produced by the CSL facilities," Professor Kidd said.

On Sunday, when pressed about various past rollout timeline expectations, Health Minister Greg Hunt was noncommittal.

Meanwhile, University of New South Wales strategic health policy consultant Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell said Australia's rate of cumulative doses per hundred was 2.34.

"We are somewhere about 90th in the world - sandwiched between Bolivia and Albania - now, however you want to spin it we are not doing very well," he told 3AW on Tuesday morning.

Originally published as New blow to Australia's vaccine hopes


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