High on his own supply

Scott Morrison says the issue is one of supply.

If only the Europeans supplied our vaccines on time, the rollout would be on track. If only the states stopped hoarding vaccines. If only GPs administered the doses delivered to them.

If only.

There has been no willingness by the government to engage with the flaws and failures of its rollout strategy.

No acknowledgement that focusing our entire energies on a single vaccine always came with great risk.

On Thursday, the prime minister told the country that, on advice from his immunisation advisory group, it is no longer advisable for anyone under 50 in Australia to be given the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The concern is an extremely rare side effect – dangerous blood clots – that the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has said affects one in every 250,000 people vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

Under-50s in this country will now receive the Pfizer vaccine, 20 million doses of which Australia has ordered.

Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy offered the flat reassurance that he’s confident Australia will be able to get Pfizer doses at “some stage in the near future”.

Asked whether the time line to give all Australians at least one dose this year has been affected, the prime minister said he no longer has a time line.

On the facts, it is unfathomable that Australia will reach herd immunity in 2021.

Currently, we sit 90th in the world, by the pace of our vaccine rollout.

The advantage earned through the sacrifice of so many people in this country has been squandered.

The issue is not one of supply but of leadership.

More than a year on from the country’s first cases of Covid-19, the hotel quarantine system remains our first and last line of defence.

Most of the workers who staff these hotels – the cleaners, carers, security guards and medical workers – are under 50 years old. When will they be fully vaccinated?

As the travel bubble with New Zealand begins, a nationally co-ordinated quarantine strategy is more vital than ever.

Our economy cannot weather rolling lockdowns, nor can it hold on as our borders remain shut while the rest of the world opens back up.

In February, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration had provisionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, Scott Morrison told a press conference, “The vaccination program is critical to our ongoing management of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Now the critical task is to diversify our vaccine supply – to engage Novavax, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The 50 million doses of AstraZeneca promised to be manufactured by CSL – far more than what’s needed to vaccinate our over-50s – should still be made and, as soon as possible, be delivered at no cost to nations within our region that cannot afford access, so they can begin vaccinating their own over-50s.

It would be one step to address the real issue of supply in this pandemic, as well as the prime minister’s own crisis of leadership.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 10, 2021 as "High on his own supply".

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