The race to obtain Covid-19 vaccine supply has been likened to the Hunger Games as Australia’s rollout continues to lag behind similar nations, with just 7.2% of the population fully vaccinated.
As New South Wales confirmed 35 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the state’s health minister offered a frank assessment of the sluggish dynamics of the national rollout. “Until we get enough vaccine and enough GPs actually at the frontline able to provide that vaccine into arms, we will continue to have effectively the Hunger Games going on here in NSW,” Brad Hazzard said.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, also expressed frustration as she confirmed four new locally acquired cases of the virus, telling reporters on Monday that Queensland would only be getting around 65,000 doses of Pfizer a week, with the bulk of the supply not due until October.
Palaszczuk sheeted home the blame to the Morrison government and urged Queenslanders to be patient. “We’re waiting on the commonwealth supply so we can make sure that you get your dosage,” she said.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt – who once declared Australia was at “the front of the queue” when it came to Covid-19 vaccination supplies – acknowledged the environment was difficult.
“Look, in relation to vaccines, it is the most competitive global environment imaginable,” Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.
But the federal minister said last week was the biggest week of the Australian vaccination rollout, with 8.25m jabs administered. He said the government continued to “work very constructively with all the states and territories” and the daily inoculation statistics indicated the program was continuing to ramp up.
“The distribution system is working.”
With premiers and state health ministers becoming more frank in their public criticism of the Morrison government’s role in the vaccination program, Hunt said Queensland would go from “232,000 doses of Pfizer in June to 430,000 doses – so an increase of almost 198,000 over the course of July”.
“I think that’s a really significant increase,” he said. “For New South Wales, we’ll go from 400,000 in June to 682,000, an increase of 282,000.”
Hunt also criticised anti-vaxxers intent on “spreading falsehoods and undermining people’s confidence”. He said Australians, traditionally, were “great vaccinators”.
“I would encourage everyone to have confidence in vaccination,” Hunt said. “It’s a pretty simple equation: vaccination for Covid can save your life. If you catch Covid, you can die.”
Scott Morrison last Friday outlined a four-phase plan to move past lockdowns and border restrictions as the vaccination program ramps up when new supply reaches the country in the last quarter of 2021.
The thresholds for moving to the next stages will be based on vaccination rates, but national cabinet has yet to reach an agreement on what the triggers will be. The triggers would be based on expert scientific advice and modelling from the Doherty Institute, Morrison said, not “political deals”.
Last Friday’s announcement has triggered a debate in the community and among experts about the threshold of vaccinated Australians, including young people, required to transition the country out of restrictions and into living with the virus.
Hunt said on Monday that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) was currently assessing an application from Pfizer to vaccinate children. He said the application would progress in the fastest possible timeframe that could be achieved safely.
Last week, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said she believed the vaccination threshold to transition to Covid-normal would be 80%, but on Monday said she would proceed in accordance with the scientific advice.
“The figure I gave was 80% of adults,” Berejiklian said. Other figures nominated since Friday included children. “I would be comfortable with whatever the experts decided.”