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AstraZeneca decision adds to need for vaccine rollout clarity

“The advice here today is not to not have the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Mr Morrison said. “There is not a prohibition on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for persons under 50. There is an expression of a preference,” he said.

That will be confusing for some people, but it is reasonable. This is not simple. The evidence of blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine remains murky and the benefits of the vaccine are significant.

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Australia is in an enviable position in many ways, even though the rollout of our vaccination program has been confusing, mostly due to lack of clear information and an unseemly squabble between the federal government and the states. This must end. It is too important for all of us that we get this right and that uncertainties and complexities are communicated.

The rare problems with AstraZeneca were unforeseen, and nobody is to blame. We need to rethink our approach for younger Australians, making sure we have adequate supplies of alternatives, which will be challenging. Most importantly, state and federal governments must release timely information about vaccine availability and distribution.

Until now, Mr Morrison deserved some of the blame for the confusion because initially he over-promised but under-delivered, and he has not been transparent with the public. It was always a stretch to claim Australia was “at the front of the queue”.

The Prime Minister was never to blame for the fundamental problem of a global shortage of vaccines. Some will question Australia’s decision to rely heavily on the AstraZeneca shot rather than buy more Pfizer doses, or sign agreements for other vaccines such as those from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. But it was always going to be difficult and expensive to get in ahead of the demand from countries with raging outbreaks.

The problems with the vaccination program, even now, should not be blown out of proportion. Australia’s success in suppressing the coronavirus means the decision on AstraZeneca is not costing lives. We can recalibrate and refocus. But the lessons of the past few weeks show that providing clear information, and all the facts available, is the only way to retain the public’s trust in vaccination, and that is in the interests of all of us.

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The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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