OPINION

The vaccine rollout is a race. It always has been

Sydney's lockdown has been extended by another four weeks as the Delta variant spreads and vaccination rates flounder. Picture: Getty Images
Sydney's lockdown has been extended by another four weeks as the Delta variant spreads and vaccination rates flounder. Picture: Getty Images

With millions of Australians in Covid lockdown, it is clear Scott Morrison has bungled the two most important jobs he had this year - rolling out the vaccine and fixing the nation's quarantine system.

But that doesn't mean the situation is irretrievable.

There are several actions we could be taking right now to get the troubled Covid vaccination program back on track and clear the way for a return to normal life.

Firstly, we should reach out to Australia's friends in the United States to seek access to vaccine surpluses.

Last year, as drug companies began developing Covid vaccines, the US moved quickly to secure contracts for the supply of six different vaccines.

By ordering more vaccines than needed, America placed itself at the front of the queue.

By contrast, the Morrison government has delivered only two vaccines - too slowly.

The government had its first talks with Pfizer in July last year, but the Prime Minister did not finalise an order until November, when the company had already committed more than 1 billion doses to 34 nations.

Instead, he put all of his eggs in the AstraZeneca basket. With Australia at the back of the queue, the chickens are now coming home to roost.

Mr Morrison also promised that 51 million doses of a third vaccine - Novavax - would be delivered in the second half of this year.

But we learned last week that the vaccine, which has not yet been cleared for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will not arrive in Australia until 2022.

So as millions of Australians cry out to be vaccinated, there simply isn't enough vaccine available.

Indeed, about 13 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated, compared to 49 per cent of Americans and 54 per cent of people in the UK.

It's time to talk to our American friends to see if they can help out. They have Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to spare.

Australia should be on the phone to Washington every day until we work something out, just as Canada and Mexico have been.

We should also be looking for excess supplies in other nations.

And we must work harder with pharmaceutical companies to develop the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines - Pfizer or Moderna - here in Australia.

The Germans took just six months to get production of the Pfizer vaccine up and running.

We could have done the same if only Mr Morrison had acted last year and gone directly to the drug companies.

Instead, his only action on mRNA production has been to pay millions of dollars to consultants to write reports about mRNA production.

That's not good enough. We need to develop local manufacturing capacity now. We'll need it in the future, whatever happens with the current Covid pandemic.

As the rest of the world charts a course back to normal life, Australians are being forced to wait.

While we endure the forced delay, we should be putting in the work now to sharpen our vaccination strategy.

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Vaccine supply failures mean many aged care and group disability home residents - our most vulnerable citizens - are still not fully vaccinated, despite Mr Morrison having promised they would be by Easter.

We've also failed to fully vaccinate their carers, along with millions of front-line workers like cleaners, retail workers and delivery drivers.

The government has been asking these people to seek vaccination through their general practitioner. But GPs have also struggled to secure supplies.

We should be taking the vaccine to people. We should have more mobile and pop-up clinics that deliver jabs to front-line workers in their workplaces.

We should be making every effort to make vaccination easy.

Mr Morrison has also failed to deliver an advertising campaign that gives Australians clear information about the need for vaccination.

In one sense it is understandable the government would not want to promote vaccination if it cannot supply vaccines to meet current demand.

However, this should not preclude advertising to give accurate information about the vaccines that are available and their effectiveness. We should be running more and better ads now.

Instead of providing information, Mr Morrison's focus has been to pretend there are no problems with the rollout and that we are "on track'' - or to shift the blame to state governments.

It's time Mr Morrison ended the blame game and focused on correcting the errors of judgment he made last year when he was too slow to act on vaccines.

Denying there is a problem or trying to spin his way out of it risks compounding those errors.

It is a race. It always was.

  • Anthony Albanese is leader of the Australian Labor Party and federal Opposition Leader.
This story The vaccine rollout is a race. It always has been first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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