Australia’s Department of Heath insists the country “is not behind in its vaccine rollout”, despite handing out just 670,000 doses — 3.3 million fewer than where the Prime Minister expected the country would be by now.
- Health Minister Greg Hunt says the 4 million target isn’t achievable due to overseas supply issues
- But he says Australia’s vaccination rate is rising and he still has confidence in the rollout
- The Health Department says it’s on track to give one dose to every Australian who wants one by the end of October
In January, Scott Morrison said the goal was to have 4 million people vaccinated by the end of March.
“We anticipate, optimistically, that we would hope to start the vaccination with around 80,000 vaccinations a week — that’s what we are targeting — and then seeing that build up over the next four to six weeks,” he said.
“We hoped, by the end of February, end of March, I should say, to have reached some 4 million population.”
To date, just 670,000 vaccinations have been administered across Australia, and as the Department of Health doesn’t keep a breakdown of which doses were part of each phase — we don’t know how many have been given out as part of phase 1a and phase 1b.
But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health spokeswoman said the rollout was progressing “as planned”, when asked about the 3.3 million dose gap.
“Australia is not behind in it its vaccine rollout,” she said.
“The rollout is progressing as per the plans and is progressively scaling up in accordance with the plan set out on 14 March.”
Overseas supply issued blamed
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News the 4 million target wasn’t achieved because of overseas supply issues with the vaccines.
The European Union has blocked some vaccine shipments destined for Australia, citing the country’s low infection rate and skyrocketing cases in Europe.
“What had been contracted wasn’t certain and so the difference between where we are now and which is still an extraordinary outcome we are now at … by the end of today we will be close to three-quarters of a million doses,” he said.
The local production of the COVID-19 vaccine has also fallen short of initial expectations.
The Federal Government repeatedly said biotech company CSL would be releasing 1 million AstraZeneca doses every week from its manufacturing plant in Victoria.
Mr Hunt was pushed by Sky News about whether that target had been met.
“The first distribution I think was over 830,000 and as they scale up, they are on track to achieve that target,” he said.
“They will be producing 50 million [vaccine doses] for Australians. We are in a very fortunate position because of this.
“Not many countries have sovereign manufacturing capability.”
Health says October goal is realistic
Mr Hunt said Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rate was rising and he still had confidence in the rollout.
The spokeswoman also said the Health Department still believed it was a realistic goal to give at least one dose to every Australian who wanted one by the end of October.
“Our strategy has always been that every adult living in Australia will have been offered a vaccine by the end of October,” she said.
“Most people will have had two doses by then.”
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La Trobe University associate professor in epidemiology Hassan Vally said it was important to put Australia’s vaccination rate in perspective.
“Clearly, we’re not where we expected to be,” he told the ABC.
“[But] we’re still in a better position than just about every country in the world, and just about every country would swap to be in our position.
“We don’t have people dying of COVID right now … and I suspect that despite the slow start, we’re now starting the real ‘business phase’ of the rollout in terms of numbers.”
Dr Vally said while he hadn’t crunched all the numbers, he didn’t think it was realistic to anticipate that everyone who wanted the vaccine would be offered one by the end of October.
“I suspect it’s not going to happen, I suspect it will take a lot longer,” he said.