• John McDonnell

The PM tries for a reset on vaccination roll-out

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has reinstituted twice-weekly meetings of the national cabinet and announced that the states and territories and the federal government would now be on an operational footing when it comes to the vaccination roll-out. This amounts to an admission by the PM that the roll-out so far has been less than a success.

The PM said in a statement:

“There are serious challenges we need to overcome caused by patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“This is a complex task and there are problems with the programme that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly.”

The federal government was thrown off course by the advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be the preferred option for people under 50.

This has put enormous pressure on the supplies of Pfizer, which to date have been erratic in their delivery. Up until now Pfizer vaccines have been allocated to front line healthcare workers, residential aged care residents and the disabled. Now it seems likely that the predominant supply of Pfizer will go to vaccinate Australians under 50.

This presents two issues for the government: the management of the vaccination process and the guarantee of predictable and stable supplies.

If these issues can be resolved successfully it is likely that the states will take over the vaccination of healthy under-50’s through mass vaccination hubs. This will accelerate the vaccination rate. The over-50’s will probably continue to be vaccinated by GP’s because they will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and must provide informed consent before they do so.

The federal government has contracted to buy 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and part of Dan Tehan’s mission to Europe will be to ensure reliable supply.

It has also contracted to acquire 51 million doses of the American Novavax vaccine. At this stage, Novavax will be made offshore and imported, although Melbourne-based biotech CSL can make the vaccine if requested by the federal government.

The great advantage of the Novavax vaccine is that it can be stored in a normal fridge. This means that once it is approved for use in Australia it will be able to be widely distributed. This means that it will probably be the vaccine of choice for under 50’s in regional Australia. The government is hoping that it can be deployed before the end of the year.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 1.2 million vaccinations had been administered in Australia and there were approximately 700,000 doses waiting to go into arms.

At the moment the government is establishing a rolling 12-week program for the vaccine roll-out.

When the national cabinet meets on Monday the states are likely to demand that the 12-week programs are made public in order to give the public more confidence.