The vaccine roll-out needs reorganising
To say, as Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett and Labor’s shadow health minister Mark Butler, have done, that the vaccine rollout has been bungled, verges on hyperbole.
After all, over a million people have been vaccinated without a major mishap. On the other hand, there are some criticisms that can be made, and refinements are certainly needed.
There is no doubt that the roll-out needs to be accelerated. As Mark Butler has pointed out, time is of the essence. It is important that the whole of the population is vaccinated as soon as possible so they can be protected from new variants as they come along. As he also points out, universal vaccination will enable economic recovery.
Seen from this perspective, the criticism of Queensland health minister Yvette D’Ath for withholding doses was valid although it was politically counter-productive.
There are refinements that can be made to speed up the vaccination program without interfering too much with the current process. The Prime Minister was correct when he told a press conference on Tuesday that GPs were the best people to look after vulnerable patients. He has flagged that other vaccination mechanisms could be used for young and healthy people and the acting chief health officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said on Tuesday, mass vaccination centres were a possibility.
One approach that could be adopted is the one that has been implemented in Canberra. Instead of vulnerable people having to ring their doctors and book, the doctors ring the patients and give them a time for their vaccination. When the schedule is full, they order the vaccine, and it is delivered ‘just in time’. This takes a lot of pressure off both the doctors and the practice staff.
Canberra has also developed a mass vaccination centre, which administered the whole of the Pfizer vaccination programme. The advantage of this approach is that health and hospital quarantine workers who were ‘off-shift’ could get a jab and didn’t have to wait until they went to work. This avoided the problem in Queensland where frontline workers were not vaccinated because they were on leave and, as a result, caught Covid.
The ACT government has also indicated that it will allow the nurse-based ‘walk in’ centres to administer doses to younger healthy adults.
The Canberra model will not be possible everywhere, particularly regional areas where GPs and pharmacies are the only possible vaccination centres. There are now 1500 clinics administering vaccines and in two weeks they have vaccinated about 200,000 people, which is pretty good given the Easter break. Over the next two weeks, the number of clinics will increase to 3000, so the number of daily vaccinations should double.
But this will not be enough to vaccinate everyone in Australia by the end of this year.
There is a national cabinet meeting this week and the temptation for the states to politicise the vaccine roll-out may be overwhelming. Newspoll shows that differences between the states and the commonwealth damage the federal government much more than they damage the state governments, which become more popular when they shirtfront the big government.
A political donnybrook will not help the nation and will make more people vulnerable to a future pandemic. But in the present circumstances, it takes enormous optimism to believe the vaccination programme will become more efficient as the result of an agreement between the commonwealth and the states.