Australia’s vaccine rollout: a bit behind, or botched?

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Dose of mRNA vaccine. Photo: Spencer Davis on Unsplash (CC BY-SA)

Growing up, like many people I was always taught to never make a promise I couldn’t keep – it lets people down, breaks trust and sometimes puts others in tricky situations.

There is currently a lot of debate over whether or not the Australian government has made a promise it can’t keep.

Nick Carlson works as a porter at the Bass Coast Regional Health Centre, also known as the Wonthaggi hospital, but he has yet to receive any word on when he will be getting his COVID-19 vaccine.

“I was supposed to be in the 1A group, they have now started the 1B group and I haven’t heard anything,” he says.

The federal government wanted 4 million people vaccinated by the end of March but as of June, not even half of this amount have had their jabs.

So why is it taking so long?

Are the issues going beyond supply and demand at this point?

And is October still a feasible deadline to have the whole population vaccinated?

Problems with supply – and coordination

Australia started its vaccine rollout before doses were able to be produced locally.

Shipments of the vaccine were then blocked by Italy who stopped a quarter of a million doses from coming to Australia due to a feud between the EU and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

But is it more than just supply issues preventing most of the population from getting the jab?

Australia’s vaccine rollout works like this – the federal government secures the vaccine and then works closely with those delivering it, but it is up to state governments to oversee the actual vaccination of patients in their states.

This is one reason why the vaccine rollout is taking so long: there is little communication between the two levels of government.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian complained in April that the communication from the Federal government wasn’t sufficient and that was one reason for a slower roll out.

“We would like to know how many doses of the vaccine New South Wales is receiving, our teams are ready and willing to step up and increase our capacity but we just need to know exactly how many doses we are getting beyond week four,” she said.

Mr Carlson says not having the vaccine when it’s available is frustrating.

“It is hard to know that the vaccine is out there and I am eligible but I haven’t even been offered it yet,” he says.

 

Lagging behind

Other countries are well ahead of Australia in their vaccination programs.

One major difference between Australia and places like the UK and the USA is the use of large vaccination sites; in Australia, the government has opted to use GP’s as one of the main providers of the vaccine.

Health economist and director of the health program at the Grattan Institute, Stephen Duckett, told the Signal podcast that it was impractical to use GP clinics as the main place for vaccinations to take place and this is having one of the biggest impacts on the speed of our rollout.

“Most GP’s, most general practices only have small waiting rooms, they can’t manage a large through put,” he told the signal.

“There have also been problems in the distribution where the number of vaccines that have been allocated to GP’s have been too many for small practices and too few for large practices. Vaccines have not turned up at the right place,” he told the signal.

Dr Duckett does believe that GP’s need to play an important role in the administering of vaccines but he believes mass vaccination centres are the only way to get a large number of people vaccinated.

“A GP waiting room can’t and will never be able to roll out a large vaccination program,” he told the Signal.

The goal of having everyone vaccinated by October still remains and the federal government seems adamant about achieving this goal.

Karen Price, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners, says that’s impossible.

“It would mean we would have to get everyone done, first dose by July which, that’s not possible,” she told Mike Seccombe for the 7am podcast.

“The October deadline is more a ministerial declaration,” Dr Price told 7am.

Mr Carlson believes the federal government needs to admit it’s made a mistake, and re-boot the rollout.

“People will forgive a delay, they won’t forgive being strung along into believing something that just isn’t happening,” he says.

 

Brittany Carlson is a third year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. Twitter: @media_brittany.