Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday.
- Prime Minister says it has been a “herculean effort” to get vaccines to Australia
- He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation’s COVID-19 response
- The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine
However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April.
Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks.
“The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor,” he said
“In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That’s been 700,000.”
Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a “herculean effort” to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues.
Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports.
Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could “churn out” more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned.
Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was “not counting on that in our vaccination strategy”.
Vaccination time line could change
Professor Murphy said he was “pretty confident” most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year.
However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward.
Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met.
The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change.
“Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal,” he said.
“Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we’re talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules.”
Extra money for COVID-19 support
Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response.
It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks.
The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services.
The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.
Stopping the spread of misinformation
In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, “Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?”. However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation.
Additional questions will be continually added to the website.
Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia.
“Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia,” he said.