“By the end of April we will have over 4000 general practices and related programs around the country,” Mr Hunt said.
Health department secretary Brendan Murphy said last month Australia would follow Britain’s lead on mass vaccination clinics when it is ready to start immunising the broader population.
“At the moment our doses are allocated to the vulnerable in [stage] 1b, and that’s through GPs,” Dr Murphy told Senate estimates.
Mass vaccination clinics have already been established at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre and the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton.
Mr Hunt said the government was maintaining its commitment to have every Australian receive their first shot by the end of October.
The pace of the roll-out fractured relations between the federal and state governments last week with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard saying on Wednesday that reports “emanating from the federal government” that suggested his state had administered only 50 per cent of the vaccines in its possession were misleading, offensive and undermined the healthcare.
Mr Hunt attempted to play down the disagreements on Sunday by thanking all states for their contribution to the roll-out, adding he had a “very constructive” conversation with Mr Hazzard. A spokesman for Mr Hazzard also described the conversation as constructive.
The Victorian government is urging the Commonwealth to enlist the help of state governments to meet its immunisation targets. Treasurer Tim Pallas expressed frustration with the slow rollout of the vaccine on Sunday and warned the delays could dampen consumer spending and hamper the economic recovery.
“Our view is that we would be more than happy to assist the Commonwealth if the Commonwealth were prepared to ask for assistance and provide the same sort of financial return they are providing doctors for the delivery of the vaccination shots,” Mr Pallas said on Sunday.
ClubsNSW said it was willing to offer its venues as vaccine hubs. “Many of our venues are big enough to accommodate large groups of people and if the government would like to utilise our clubs as inoculation hubs, the industry stands ready to assist,” it said in a statement.
Mr Culbert said Australia should open mass vaccination facilities like those being used with great success in the US and UK to move through the second half of the vaccine rollout (“phase 2” onwards) as quickly as possible.
“We’ve offered up Sydney Airport as a mass vaccination facility and I’m sure there are many other businesses that would offer to help as well,” Mr Culbert said. “We should be looking to pull every lever possible to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Economists Steven Hamilton and Richard Holden said the SCG and MCG should be used to ramp up the program on “an industrial scale”.
“The part of the process the federal government is squarely responsible for – vaccine procurement – needs to be radically ramped up, no matter the cost,” they wrote in an opinion column in Monday’s Herald and Age. “The states need to be given full autonomy over how their rollout proceeds.”
Blueprint Institute chief economist Mr Hamilton said mass vaccination sites in Europe and the US carried the risk of further spreading the virus, but this was not the case in Australia due to our low case numbers.
“Your vaccine roll-out should never be limited by supply,” he said. “It should be limited by demand. Whoever wants one, should be able to go out and get it.”
The call for mass vaccination sites is also supported by Flight Centre. A spokesman for the travel retailer said the ideal outcome is to vaccinate “as many people as soon as possible” without compromising on safety.
Mr Culbert says Australia will be viewed as the best place in the world to holiday, study, do business and migrate to after the pandemic because of how successfully it has controlled the coronavirus. But it will miss the opportunity to capitalise on that success if our vaccine program falls behind.
“The rest of the world will move on without us, so we need to get through the five phases of the rollout by October and then mint the dividend,” he says. “The benefits of getting this right is absolutely massive and the costs of getting it wrong are huge.”
In Sydney Airport’s border proposal, states would agree to keep borders open after the first 7 million most vulnerable Australians (phases 1a and 1b) have been vaccinated.
International students, skilled migrants and Australians wanting to return home would be allowed into the country after phase 2a of the program, which covers half the population including all adults over 50. Australia would then open the border to low-risk countries and then to all vaccinated travellers as the rollout reaches completion.
with Sumeyya Ilanbey, Amelia McGuire, Harriet Alexander and Tom Rabe
Business reporter at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Charlotte is a reporter for The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra