A number of key dates for Australian’s vaccine rollout are missing from the timeline as the Federal Government continues to defend its delayed rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister defended the slow pace and blamed overseas vaccine delays and supply issues, namely the European Union and AstraZeneca, for the failure to provide 3.1 million doses.
The federal government has ordered more than 53 million doses of the jab, 50 million to be manufactured onshore. In January, it predicted four million Aussies would be vaccinated by the end of March and last December predicted all 25 million Australians would be vaccinated by October. We are currently not even a quarter of the way to the first goal.
The EU has denied claims it blocked the shipment, with Trade minister Dan Tehan on Wednesday describing the reply over export controls as “a clear message from the EU and a very welcome one”.
“Hopefully AstraZeneca will be able to honour now all the other commitments that they’ve got with Australia,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Yet the Health Department now predicts some Australians may not receive the second shot until early 2022.
So far, 870,000 Pfizer doses have arrived from Europe and 1.3 million AstraZeneca doses have been released by local producer CSL.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt avoided setting a date for Australia to hit the 1 million vaccination mark, claiming it could be late this week or next if all goes to plan.
The two million target is predicted to hit around mid-April but the government has remained cautious to provide any specific dates.
Mr Hunt confirmed 920,334 Australians have been vaccinated as of Easter Tuesday and that yesterday’s figures (65,351) were “a higher figure than I was expecting”. He said Australia will hit the million mark “very soon” but wouldn’t say when.
The government says it is confident the European Union will deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine but continues to ramp up the production of local, Australian-made supplies.
Yet as news.com.au revealed earlier, in the several short weeks that jabs have been going into the arms of 900,000 Australians, improper handling, incorrect storage, the wrong type of needle and flawed delivery practices have seen doses spoiled.
A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Heath said states and territories are required to report daily on any instances of wastage.
However, it could not detail how many vaccine doses have so far been wasted across Australia.
Speaking to ABC’s 7.30 program on Wednesday night, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he found it a “little mysterious” that CSL is unable to give a timetable for how many vaccines it can produce in a week.
“I do find that a little mysterious. I think it’s fair to say that the communications probably do need to be improved a little bit with each of the states and territories,” he said.
“It is challenging for the Federal Government I’m sure at the present time to know precisely how much vaccine is coming to us from either offshore or onshore.
“We were led to believe that CSL in Victoria would be giving us much larger regular supplies and for whatever reason that hasn’t been achieved.”
On Tuesday night’s 7.30, Professor Brendan Murphy said “the vast majority of GPs are incredibly happy with the rollout” despite the fact only two per cent of Australians had been vaccinated when other countries like America have vaccinated at least 30 per cent.
Dr Murphy “completely rejected” Sales’ accusation that the Australian public sees the rollout as “anything other than amateur hour”.
But he said he was confident Australians would have at least one injection by October.
“We are still on track to hit our target of every adult getting their first dose by the end of October.
On Wednesday, Mr Hunt confirmed an extra 1.6 million vaccines were expected over the next three weeks, bringing the total to 2.9 million doses.
At this stage, 1.3 million AstraZeneca doses have been cleared with three more batches expected over the next few days. A further 470,000 Australian-made doses will be released later this week, an extra 480,000 early next week and then early the week after an extra 670,000 will be ready.
The figures are still substantially less than the million doses a week the government has promised, but if local production begins to pick up pace it could mean less reliance on overseas doses.
In pointed remarks on Wednesday, Scott Morrison said he was pleased to hear that the EU was not seeking to restrict vaccines to Australia.
“If it is, indeed, the position of the European Union that they are happy for these export licences to be granted and their 3.8 million doses to come to Australia, then we would encourage them to do that in response to our request, ” he said.