Australia is now six weeks into its vaccination campaign, and while the government has missed its stated aim of administering 4 million doses by the end of March, it says it remains on track to have all Australian adults vaccinated by the end of October this year.
In aged care homes, the vaccination rollout has also fallen behind schedule, and has been plagued by mistakes, uncertainties and delays.
But residents and families have also rejoiced as their loved ones have received the vaccine, joining them on the allotted day, and – according to a spokesperson from the Department of Health – holding “celebrations” to mark the occasion.
The vaccine rollout has been slow and complex, and there have been problems along the way, but it is also remarkable. It is saving lives whilst at the same time drawing a line under a terrible year in which older people have been cut off from the world, and have lived in fear of COVID-19.
Back in January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “We anticipate, optimistically, that we would hope to start the vaccination with around 80,000 vaccinations a week … and we hope by the end of March to have reached some four million [of the] population. That is a target we are working to.”
Today is the last day of March, and Australia is well short of the prime minister’s optimistic goal.
As of Monday, just under 550,000 people have been vaccinated, but the situation is gradually improving.
Last week phase 1b of the rollout began, and an encouraging 259,000 people were vaccinated in seven days alone.
This bodes well for the government’s remaining goal, which is to have all Australians who would like to be vaccinated to have received their first dose, at least, by the end of October.
Earlier this week the Minister for Health Greg Hunt said, “The latest guidance I have is we remain on track for all the first doses before the end of October.”
The COVID-19 vaccination campaign is the largest and most complex vaccine rollout ever undertaken in Australia, so it is perhaps unsurprising there have been some hiccups along the way and the campaign has fallen behind schedule.
We take a look at what went wrong to cause Australia to fall so far behind that first bullish prediction by the prime minister, and how are we tracking now?
Firstly, we received far fewer doses of the vaccine than we were expecting after Italy blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia in early March.
So far, Australia has received only 700,000 doses from overseas, which means it was impossible for us to reach the four million goal.
Chris Moy, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, told ABC News Breakfast this morning, “It was not possible to get that four million target purely because of supply.”
But a fortnight ago, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved Australia’s own production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, paving the way for CSL to manufacture 50 million doses in total.
CSL’s vaccines will make up the large majority of the 53.8 million doses needed to vaccinate Australians, and will mean Australia does not have to rely on overseas suppliers.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said, “Our contract with CSL for 50 million doses means we do not need to rely on overseas supply to ensure all Australians who want a vaccine can be vaccinated.”
Along with the 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses, the Australian government has also acquired 10 million Pfizer doses and 51 million Novavax doses, although the Novavax vaccine has not yet been authorised for use.
So supply should not be a problem in the future.
The rollout into aged care homes has been marred by confusion and errors, and remains behind schedule.
Phase 1a of the vaccination program began on Monday, February 22, and included quarantine and border workers, aged care residents and aged care workers, and prioritised frontline healthcare staff.
A total of 678,000 people fall into this category.
The rollout has been slower than expected into residential aged care. Initially there was confusion about when vaccine teams would be arriving in aged care homes, and within the first days of the rollout, two residents were given four times the recommended dose, raising questions about the training of doctors administering the vaccines.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told HelloCare rolling out vaccinations in aged care homes has presented unique challenges, but significant rewards and jubilation, too.
“The Australian Government continues to work with the Aged Care sector to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to aged care residents and staff safely and carefully,” the spokesperson said.