The delays come amid concerns healthcare workers are attempting to “vaccine shop”, with reports from two of Melbourne’s major hospitals that some staff were requesting the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine over the more readily available AstraZeneca version.
In Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “the signs for Easter are looking positive” as she revealed the decision on whether to extend Greater Brisbane’s three-day lockdown would be announced at 9am on Thursday.
A fresh infection in northern NSW, linked to the Brisbane outbreak, has shut down the Byron Bay Bluesfest for the second year in a row. The festival had been due to start on Thursday.
The war of words over the national vaccination program, which had an initial target of inoculating 4 million Australians by the end of March, began when federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the states had “left these [vaccines] in the rack when they could have put these things in people’s arms”.
Mr Hunt on Wednesday said a national total of 670,369 vaccinations had been reached after a record 72,826 vaccines were administered on Tuesday.
Mr Hazzard hit back and Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said Mr Littleproud should “give himself an uppercut”.
Mr Foley said Victoria had the capacity to inoculate greater numbers of people but its efforts had been hampered due to low levels of vaccine provided by the federal government.
He said Victorian officials had distributed the state’s share of vaccines as soon as it received them and had not been stockpiling doses, despite the Commonwealth not providing any certainty on future supply.
Mr Foley said Victoria had administered 100,000 doses and the federal government had allocated – but not supplied – 177,000 doses over a five-week period.
“Perhaps the Commonwealth owes the states and public health officials an apology,” Mr Foley said.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said all governments were accountable for the timely delivery of vaccines.
“Vaccines only protect the community when they are in people’s arms and governments need to work together to maximise access to available vaccines. There is no excuse for them sitting in fridges and freezers,” he said.
Stephen Duckett, a health economist with think tank the Grattan Institute and former head of the Commonwealth Health Department, said the responsibility for the rollout was ultimately the federal government’s.
“Hunt has all along seen this as a political opportunity … that the vaccine rollout was going to go smoothly and then they would go to an election on the glory of the government taking sole responsibility for its success,” Dr Duckett said.
It was understandable that states were frustrated, having had no idea how many vaccines they were going to get week to week, he said.
“They were completely in the dark … It’s almost impossible for the states to do any planning at all.”
Meanwhile, an email sent out to all staff at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne last week from chief executive Andrew Way, seen by The Age, said while anxiety around vaccinations was understandable, demands by hospital workers for one vaccine over another would not be tolerated.
“Let me be clear,” Professor Way wrote. “Our vaccination program is agnostic on the actual vaccine used. There is no choice … we vaccinate with the vaccine provided by our hub. It is highly likely that most of us, including me, will receive AstraZeneca.”
One staff member who works at The Alfred, who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly, said concerns from staff had been fuelled by global media reports about a small number of adverse reactions to the AstraZenca jab.
A similar letter similar was also sent out by management at the Northern Hospital in Epping.
The head of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Alison Verhoeven, said it was “not appropriate for anyone to request one vaccine over another”.
Meanwhile, elderly people and others with underlying medical conditions were turned away from the mass vaccination centre at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday.
People older than 70 and those with medical conditions are part of phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, but they must get their vaccinations done through their general practitioner.
Mass vaccination clinics are currently operating to inoculate healthcare staff and other critical workers including police, but concerns have been raised that sites are not yet running at full capacity.
“The government has got to start rolling out mass vaccination centres to full capacity and they’ve got to use all the available workforce to do this,” Professor Verhoeven said.
Denis Fitzpatrick, 91, had been unable to secure an appointment with his GP and walked from his Docklands home to the hub on Wednesday but workers told him to book online.
“They said you can’t, you have to use the internet, and I don’t use the internet,” he said. “For us old people, it’s a bit awkward.”
With Kate Aubusson and Tom Rabe
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.