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A stab in the dark: Vaccine rollout now in such a mess that PM dumps target date

Politics

Scott Morrison has abandoned plans to give all Australians their first vaccine dose by the end of October.

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The prime minister dumped the target after Australian medical authorities recommended people under the age of 50 get the Pfizer vaccine instead of AstraZeneca because of blood clotting concerns.

He has conceded not all Australians will get their first dose by the end of the year, even though the government has doubled its order of the Pfizer vaccine.

His decision to throw out the timetable has thrown the rollout into chaos but Jane Halton from the National COVID-19 Commission is calling for calm.

“The trick now is for people just to calm down a little bit and get back to basics,” she told Nine on Monday.

“We need to vaccinate the nation, we need to have the vaccines to do that, we’re going to get Pfizer at the end of this year and there will be 40 million doses in total of Pfizer.”

Queensland had been working to have 3.5 million people protected with the one-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, and a further half a million people with the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, as soon as possible. Independent advice suggested that would have been sufficient to reduce the risk of death and avoided the need for stage four lockdowns.

However, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath would not offer a timeframe today, saying only that everything was “contingent on supply”.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said Queensland Health was training staff to deliver the Pfizer vaccine and accelerate the rollout. She said that was based on Commonwealth assurances that there would be an imminent increase in supply, and also expert advice that the cold storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccines were not as strict as previously thought.

“We’ll just slowly work through the state, and safely,” Young said.

AstraZeneca was being used in the Torres Strait, where there is a younger population, due to the risk presented by virus-stricken Papua New Guinea. That rollout was halted on Friday, something Young said was prudent and would be addressed as soon as possible.

The influx of sick travellers from PNG prompted a reduction in allowed passenger numbers, however that will be lifted tomorrow night. Brisbane quarantine hotels and hospitals are bracing for another influx of positive cases.

Overnight, Queensland recorded one new case of COVID-19 in a PNG traveller, in hotel quarantine, as well as a historic case linked to a hen’s weekend at Byron Bay.

Young said it took a serology test to confirm the party-goer had COVID-19. They were in quarantine at home so presented no risk to the community.

“It just shows there was a significant super-spreader event at that party, which we suspected all along,” Young said.

Young said 13 people were infected at the party cluster, including a male entertainer from the Gold Coast, some household contacts and the “vast majority” of revellers.

The party was one of two outbreaks involving the UK variant, two returned travellers, the Hotel Grand Chancellor and the Princess Alexandra Hospital. They forced greater Brisbane into lockdown and required restrictions, including mandatory masks, that are due to be lifted on Thursday.

While the vaccination rollout has long been touted as necessary to avoid restrictions and lockdowns, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has criticised its management under the Morrison government.

“Beyond belief that the Morrison government seem to have no idea about vaccination timetables when this should have been their main focus given they have handed most responsibility to the states,” Albanese said.

But federal frontbencher and Queensland MP David Littleproud defended the vaccine strategy, arguing Australia’s progress should not be compared to other countries.

“I don’t think any Australian would want the Chinese vaccine or the Sputnik vaccine,” he told Nine.

“Australia has been calm and methodical about making sure that we give the best vaccine with confidence, and however long it takes, it takes.”

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws says unless national vaccination rates ramp up to between 100,000 and 120,000 per day, it will take two years for Australians to be fully vaccinated.

The latest daily tally was 27,209.

The McKell Institute has found vaccine delays will increase the chance of lockdowns and hurt the economy, warning to cost could be more than $1.4 billion.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan will travel to Europe on Wednesday to urge German, Belgian and French counterparts to do what they can to increase vaccine production.

Many of the world’s vaccines, including AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are manufactured in Europe.

But because of the continent’s export controls, it has effectively blocked contracted supplies to countries including Australia.

Meanwhile, thousands of Australia’s most vulnerable are still waiting for their first vaccine dose, eight weeks into the rollout.

People who live and work in specialist disability accommodation were supposed to be included in phase 1a of the vaccine rollout.

But Aruma chief executive Andrew Richardson, whose organisation runs about 350 group homes, said his clients and staff had been overlooked.

“It’s shameful – not one person with a disability living in any Aruma supported independent living setting has been vaccinated,” he told ABC radio.

David Moody from National Disability Services said there were similar stories across the country.

“We have many members who continue to be understandably concerned,” Mr Moody said.

The Commonwealth has been talking with the private sector about new contracts to vaccinate the remainder of the 1a group, including disability services, and encouraged aged care providers to tender to do staff vaccinations themselves.

-with Sean Parnell

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