VAX THE NATION

COVID-19 vaccine rollout: Australian government ramps up rollout

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

COVID-19 vaccines will be made available for all Australians over 40 years from next week as Australia enters a new "command and control" military-style scale up phase of the beleaguered vaccination rollout which has already significantly lifted in the wake of the current outbreak in Victoria.

Record numbers of eligible Australians - 143,659 over the past day - are turning up to get vaccinated, leading to supply issues in the centre of the outbreak in Melbourne and thousands of extra doses being pledged for Victoria at Friday's national cabinet meeting of Commonwealth, state and territory leaders.

Victoria recorded four locally acquired coronavirus cases on Friday taking the outbreak's total to 64 positive cases. Concerningly, the dominant Delta variant of COVID-19 has been discovered affecting the Melbourne family that recently travelled through Jervis Bay, Goulburn and Gundagai on the way back home.

ACT, NSW, Commonwealth and Victorian health authorities are working together on the case, including urgent contact tracing.

While there is no immediate end in sight to the Victorian lockdown, the national vaccination rollout is shifting to the next stage.

"I would say it was a positive discussion about the vaccine rollout among premiers and chief ministers and the Commonwealth today," the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"It was agreed today there will be further simplification of the arrangements on the vaccination programs and that will include bringing forward access to 40-49 year-olds for their doses by June 8."

Health officials expect Australia will pass 5 million doses administered over the next few days, but it is still an enormous task to fully vaccinate the 20 million eligible Australians by the end of the year.

So the vaccination rollout is being "scaled up" with Lieutenant General John 'JJ' Frewen brought in from the Army to oversee a new "Command and Control" shift in the vaccination rollout.

He replaces the retiring public servant, Health Associate Secretary Caroline Edwards, as the head of the National COVID Vaccination Task Force.

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For Mr Morrison, it was a "completely new organisational structure for getting a whole of government effect on a very big problem."

"I think that very direct command and control structure that has proved to be so effective in the past will add a further dimension and assistance as we step up in this next phase," he said.

But it is admission of a "very big problem" now with the rollout? The Prime Minister insists it is not.

"With the retirement of Caroline Edwards, there's an opportunity to scale up again," he said. "And as we're going to move into the busiest phase of the vaccination program in the second half of this year."

"It is important to ensure that we're got every focused effort we can have on this program.

"We are taking the next step and we're going to the next level."

After an urgent request from the state government, Victoria is being given more vaccine doses to meet supply problems. The federal government notes Victoria has a 320,000 vaccine doses - 160,000 Pfizer, 160,000 AstraZeneca - on hand, but it will provide the state with an extra 142,000 Pfizer doses for the vaccination hubs, while Victorian GPs receive an extra 233,000 doses over two weeks.

National cabinet had other assistance for the states and territories. The nation's leaders decided that temporary COVID-19 disaster support for workers during extended lockdowns, announced on Thursday, will be paid for by the Commonwealth, leaving the states to take care of business support.

It is a significant concession for the states, especially Victoria, which did not want to take on the responsibility of income support.

ACM launches VAXTHENATION campaign calling for eligible Australians to get vaccinated.

ACM launches VAXTHENATION campaign calling for eligible Australians to get vaccinated.

The Prime Minister described the outcome as "fair", although the result means the commonwealth is likely to end up paying out more financial support than the states and territories during lockdowns.

The Commonwealth, state and territory leaders came to an in-principle agreement to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all aged care workers to protect the vulnerable sector. Many of the states want it, although the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has concerns for the workforce.

"To put it in very blunt terms, if it became a mandatory requirement, would that impact on workforce availability to the extent you would be compromising the health and care of aged care and disability residents?" Mr Barr said.

Mr Barr said everyone at national cabinet agreed the level of vaccination among aged care workers needed to increase.

"If it doesn't become mandatory, it has to be strongly encouraged, not only for the health for the workers themselves, and their family and friends, but also those who reside in those facilities," he said.

But, making worker vaccinations mandatory is likely as it is favoured by the Prime Minister.

"We are leaning heavily into this, make no mistake, we are leaning heavily into this as government and myself as Prime Minister to see a move towards mandatory vaccination for aged care workers," Mr Morrison said.

The measure will need to be enacted by public health orders by state and territory governments, in the same way the requirement for the influenza vaccine was made mandatory.

Meanwhile, the federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has responded to the gap in knowledge on the number of vaccinated aged care workers by making the reporting of such vaccinations mandatory from June 15.

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This story Covid vaccines to become available to all Australians over 40 first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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