• John McDonnell

Vaccination could break the Morrison government


COVID-19 Taskforce Commander, Lieutenant General John Frewen and Minister for Health Greg Hunt

Scott Morrison’s four-stage plan has been a clever switch play. It has diverted the narrative away from Labor’s claim that the vaccination roll-out has been too slow, and focused attention on the issue of vaccination coverage.


The key element of the four-stage plan is that migration from one stage to the next is a function of vaccine coverage.


This is where the danger lies for the Morrison government.


Already epidemiologists are saying that for international borders to be opened safely, vaccination coverage will need to be at least 90 per cent of the population over the age of 16. The expert group that is setting the figure could be just as conservative and state governments could demand absurdly high coverage before they will forgo lockdowns.


This could set the government an unachievably high target, which it will fail to meet, and full responsibility for restrictions being maintained will be sheeted home to Morrison.


It would be an election nightmare.


The size of the task ahead can be gleaned from the fact that only three countries have achieved over 90 per cent vaccination coverage: UAE, Israel and Qatar.


China has not yet achieved 90 per cent vaccination coverage and the United Kingdom, which has had an intensive vaccination program has only got to 80 per cent vaccination coverage. Despite this, the UK government has announced that people who are fully vaccinated will not have to isolate in the future.


The United States is confident that it will achieve 70 per cent vaccination coverage and is opening its economy.


Australia is currently running at 28 per cent for first vaccinations and 9 per cent for full vaccinations. Contrary to assertions by Labor, this is not the worst coverage in the OECD: New Zealand’s vaccination coverage is only half that of Australia.


The importance of a high level of vaccination coverage has been emphasised by the series of meetings currently being conducted by the head of the vaccination task force, Lt. General J.J. Frewen.


On Monday, General Frewen held a war game conference with state and federal bureaucrats. This tested the ability of state authorities to deliver the high level of vaccinations that will be required in the last quarter of 2021. Various scenarios and setbacks were war-gamed and alternative arrangements put forward to deal with them. Among the proposals were suggestions for expanding the workforce available to administer inoculations, including recruiting retired nurses and final year medical students.


On Wednesday, the treasurer Josh Frydenberg and General Frewen met with the CEOs of Australia’s biggest companies, under the aegis of the Business Council of Australia. These companies have undertaken to facilitate in-house vaccination of their employees.


It has also been suggested that universities could vaccinate their staff and students on campus using their own infrastructure.


All of this bodes well for widespread vaccination coverage by Christmas. The idea of workplace and campus vaccination will add to peer pressure, which will overcome vaccine hesitancy.


There is still a prospect that the states will shift the goalposts on the level of vaccine coverage required for the economy to open up. This will be countered by pressure from businesses and comparisons with other countries that are reducing restrictions.


If Australia’s vaccine coverage exceeds that of other countries that are fully open, it will strengthen the Morrison government’s cause.