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First in line for vaccines, but it’s not a race. The PM can’t spin vaccines into arms

(1984’s hero, Winston Smith, also spent a lot of time in his apartment, although without the comfort of Netflix or a sourdough starter.)

Time stole by and while Australia was congratulating itself on how well it had handled the pandemic, other countries were speedily vaccinating their citizens with whatever they could spike into arms. The triumphant vaccine-landing of February gave way to a realisation that we’re the worst-performing country in the OECD for full vaccination against COVID-19.

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On February 28, the Health Minister did another press conference heralding the touchdown of AstraZeneca doses in Australia. He also announced the launch of a “vaccine checker” – a website where you could look where you stood in the vaccine priority queue (but it’s not a race).

This announceable was representative of the way the vaccine rollout has unfolded – words to fill a press release, with little application in the real world. A priority system means little when you have a vaccine shortfall.

Same goes for the “National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID Response” released by Morrison early last week. It seemed to amount to an announcement that at some unspecified point in the future, when an unspecified number of people have been vaccinated, things might be normalish.

Among my circle, obtaining a vaccine has been such a haphazard, word-of-mouth process, it is startling. Friends text each other weblinks with the instruction: “Try this one.”

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Under-40s who want an AstraZeneca vaccination swap intel about which doctors will hook you up. Other under-40s have secured appointments for Pfizer doses, via some loophole. We don’t ask questions. It’s like trying to score drugs, but with more anxiety about blood clots.

Morrison has corrected interviewers when they remind him of the low rates of vaccination – he likes to quote the larger figure of people who have received one shot.

The PM, who is in lockdown at Kirribilli House, was silent for several days last week as it became increasingly clear Sydney was in serious trouble with its latest outbreak.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was explicit about the problem. “When you only have 9 per cent of your community vaccinated, opening up … means you would subject thousands and thousands to hospitalisation and death,” she told reporters on Friday. “When we look around the world and we look at countries that are opening up, that are living freely with COVID and the Delta strain, they are able to do that because half of the population is vaccinated.”

Morrison did a media blitz on Friday, after some outlets were briefed, and duly reported that Australia would be getting a “ramp-up” of Pfizer doses. “PM opens the Pfizer floodgates”, read a headline in The Australian.

It sounded a lot like Australia had procured more vaccines. On closer inspection, it seemed perhaps the government had been able to bring forward some doses and direct them to Sydney.

A government spokesman called it a “re-phasing” of the rollout, although noted that the 4.8 million doses promised for August could be “subject to change”. You didn’t need to put that under a microscope to see it was pure spin, but once Pfizer released a clarifying statement, the whole PR exercise was stripped buck naked.

“The total number of 40 million doses we are contracted to deliver to Australia over 2021 has not changed,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to work closely with the government to support their rollout program.”

When things don’t go well, Morrison often snaps into defensiveness – “I don’t hold a hose mate” – or uses attack as a form of defence. We saw this when he was embroiled in the “woman crisis” (actually a crisis created by men). During a press conference earlier this year, Morrison made a thinly-veiled personal attack on the reporter who broke the Brittany Higgins alleged rape story, alluding to a bullying complaint he said was made against a News Corp journalist.

On Friday, Morrison seemed to blame Sydneysiders for not adhering to lockdown restrictions.

“We haven’t seen the compliance that has been necessary,” he told Channel Seven. “The virus doesn’t move on its own. It moves by people moving the virus around.”

That is true.

Also true: people don’t get vaccinated on their own. They need a government to co-ordinate it for them.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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