Mr Hunt on February 25 said the government would complete phase 1a in six weeks. He insisted this week Australia’s vaccine rollout “remains on track” and said the pace of the vaccination program was increasing as domestic supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine came on stream.
About 670,000 vaccinations had been delivered by April 1, well short of the 4 million jabs the federal government had initially projected.
Europe’s decision to block the export of more than 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had significantly slowed the rollout but onshore production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by Melbourne company CSL is slowly ramping up towards the planned 1 million doses per week.
The federal government published two Health Department “Approach to Market” tenders on the Austender website on March 16 and 17 respectively, both with a closing date of April 30.
They suggest the federal government expects the first phase of vaccinations will not conclude until the end of May – something Health Minister Greg Hunt has not stated publicly.
The first asked for private companies to provide for the “safe, targeted and timely administration of approved COVID-19 vaccines (Vaccine) for the phase 1a cohort across Australia by late May 2021” and the second asked for the same for residential aged care staff by late May 2021.
The tenders ask the private sector to supply services for the rollout including “all aspects of vaccine administration” including a trained workforce, inventory management, scheduling of appointments, cold storage and security.
At present four providers – Aspen Medical, Healthcare Australia, International SOS, and Sonic Clinical Services – have been contracted by the Commonwealth to assist with the rollout, while the number of GPs delivering doses is expected to rise from 1000 to about 4000.
In Victoria, vaccination hubs scaled back or closed over the Easter long weekend with the state government claiming it could afford to give its hubs a holiday timetable as it was so far ahead of its milestones that vials can wait in the fridge.
In NSW, the Morrison government has now accepted the Berejiklian government’s offer of help to vaccinate the state’s residents in a move designed to speed up the sluggish roll out.
Professor Kidd said on Saturday that “if the states and territories have the capacity to be involved in now moving towards the vaccination of people within 1b, we’re very happy to have those discussions with them”.
Questions to Mr Hunt’s office about the pace of the rollout – and specifically, the end date being pushed back until the end of May – were referred to the Health Department.
A spokesman said “the vaccination program has been designed from the outset to continually expand, particularly with the certainty of supply available from the Australian production of the vaccine”.
“The tenders enable further providers to join the vaccination rollout where they meet the safety accreditation and it is logistically possible to do so.”
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said it was “no surprise” the rollout appeared to be far behind schedule because “only one third of people in phase 1a have received a single dose and one tenth have received both doses”.
“Our sense is that very few aged care workers anywhere in the country have been vaccinated.”
Under the original rollout plan for phase 1a, the federal government was responsible for vaccinating aged care workers and residents while the states were required to vaccinate medical workers and frontline border and quarantine staff.
University of NSW epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said the federal government needed to be more transparent about which cohorts of people had been vaccinated and that “more granular detail” was needed.
“The end of May is simply not fast enough,” she said.
The number of Australians vaccinated now stands at 720,000 people, including 105,000 in aged care and disability facilities, across phase 1a (a cohort of 700,000 people) and 1b (6 million people) of the rollout.
with Zach Hope
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James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com