19 Apr 2021

Australian leaders meet to re-set Covid-19 vaccine rollout

11:26 am on 19 April 2021

Australia's federal and state leaders will meet today in a bid to re-set the country's troubled Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is pictured after attending a church service at St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney on 11 April 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the states would discuss their plans to open mass-vaccination centres to accelerate the rollout. Photo: AFP

The federal government has blamed the sluggish rollout on vaccine supply issues overseas, with GPs complaining they have received as few as 40 doses to distribute a week.

Some doctors say public confidence in the vaccine rollout is fading, and urgently needs to be restored if there is any hope of completing it by the end of the year.

The government has also had to overhaul its rollout plans after receiving updated medical advice recommending people under the age of 50 get the Pfizer vaccine instead of AstraZeneca due to concerns about blood clots.

From today, National Cabinet will meet twice a week to address those issues, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the states would discuss their plans to open mass-vaccination centres to accelerate the rollout.

"I know some states are very interested in supporting larger vaccination programmes now for people aged 50 to 70 and we are very open to discussing that with the states and looking forward to that discussion tomorrow," Morrison said on Sunday.

Victoria announced on Sunday it would open three mass-vaccination hubs for Australians eligible for the shot, after similar announcements from the New South Wales and South Australian governments.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the nation's leaders would today discuss how mass-vaccination centres would run in tandem with GP clinics, which are already administering the jabs.

"If states wish to expand their offerings then that's an option that is available to them individually and there is no one-size-fits-all model that each state and territory will have options going forward," he said on Sunday.

"We need to be honest that the global challenge with the scientific information, which it was our duty to make sure was considered by ATAGI, and when they made the recommendations, has meant that there are elements that we are reviewing through the National Cabinet."

Calls for GPs to issue Pfizer shots

Some doctors say the greatest threat facing the rollout is not the practical issues it faces, but the fading public confidence they are causing.

Omar Khorshid, from the Australian Medical Association, said in many respects the rollout is tracking quite well, but is being weighed down by the perception it is failing.

"It has been characterised as something that's chaotic and missing its targets, and with vaccines that are of questionable safety, and the most of that isn't actually true," Dr Khorsid said.

"But it's critical that our state governments and our federal government work together to demonstrate to Australians that they're on top of this, and that they will roll out these vaccines in a safe and effective way by the end of the year."

Pfizer is going to play a much more significant part in the vaccine rollout, as it is now the preferred vaccine for Australians under 50.

Karen Price, from the Royal Australasian College of GPs, said that meant questions around supply must be clearly answered and communicated.

She said GPs would have to be given the capacity to administer Pfizer doses.

"I think we're going to need all hands on deck here," Dr Price said.

"It won't be for every practice. And that's okay."

Scott Morrison last week abandoned a target to offer a first vaccine dose to all Australians by October, arguing there was too much uncertainty.

Speaking on Sunday, opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said the national cabinet meeting was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to set new goals.

"Scott Morrison must outline a clear plan - to replace his current failed one - that has targets, that has timelines and that has milestones that allow Australians, and Australian businesses, to plan for the future," he said.

"Tomorrow's National Cabinet meeting is an opportunity for states to step in and fix his mess."


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