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Morrison says sorry for sluggish vaccine rollout, brings forward pharmacy jabs

The Prime Minister and senior ministers had come under increasing pressure to apologise for the slow vaccine rollout, and Mr Morrison’s mea culpa followed an apology earlier on Thursday from dumped cabinet minister Darren Chester.

Mr Chester said in a social media post if it helped people to hear it, then he was “sorry” the rollout had taken longer than expected.

Former veterans’ affairs minister Darren Chester said if it helped people to hear it, then he was “sorry” the rollout had taken longer than expected.

Former veterans’ affairs minister Darren Chester said if it helped people to hear it, then he was “sorry” the rollout had taken longer than expected.Credit:Brook Mitchell

“And I’m sorry that some people have lost confidence in our government and our world-class health system as a result,” he wrote.

But Mr Chester, who was sacked from the frontbench following Barnaby Joyce’s return as Deputy Prime Minister last month, said the media must share some blame, saying sensationalist reporting has fuelled levels of hesitancy.

The former veterans’ affairs minister said he would not “point the finger and blame anyone for the delays” but there were some factors the media had chosen to ignore.

“For months, the mainstream media added to vaccine hesitancy by heavily reporting the tiny number of adverse reactions and now criticise the government because AstraZeneca has a poorer reputation than Pfizer,” he said.

He said the decision by health authorities not to recommend AstraZeneca for people under 60 was not consistent with other nations and would be different if Australia had huge coronavirus case numbers.

Mr Morrison revealed on Wednesday he had repeatedly asked the nation’s peak medical experts to review their advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine in order to accelerate the program.

Overall, more than 6 million AstraZeneca doses have been delivered to Australians, with about 76 per cent of over 70s now vaccinated and almost 15 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 are fully vaccinated with both doses.

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Mr Morrison said more than 76,000 Australians under 40 have received an AstraZeneca vaccine since he advised them they could ask their GP for advice about the shot, including almost 40,000 first doses.

When pharmacists are brought in to deliver vaccinations, he said they will be able to give the AstraZeneca shot to any adult and will have to follow the same informed consent process as a GP would follow.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid, who represents doctors, outlined several risks with pharmacy vaccinations but stopped short of calling for the government to reverse its decision as the Delta coronavirus variant spreads.

He said GPs were better at managing rare reactions such as anaphylaxis and suggested some pharmacies in areas where the coronavirus is circulating may struggle to make their stores COVID-safe.

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Dr Khorshid also argued that GPs would do a better job of informing patients about the risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to six deaths out of 6.1 million doses.

“That’s not a straightforward conversation, and in our view that’s best done by a GP,” he said.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia president Trent Twomey predicted the rollout would be bought forward by several months by including chemists and said all pharmacists in the scheme would have gone through training.

“These pharmacies are fully indemnified by the government and informed consent protocols will be followed for patients,” Mr Twomey said. He pointed to other rollouts, such as in the United States and Alberta, Canada, where much of the vaccinating has been successfully done by pharmacists.

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