Aus govt accused of ‘narrow’ approach to Covid vax


Australian experts have accused the federal government of a narrow-minded approach to the country’s coronavirus vaccine strategy.

Former secretary of the Department of Health Stephen Duckett said on Friday that Australia’s troubled vaccine rollout was doomed from the start after the government limited itself to a narrow range of candidate vaccines, reports Xinhua news agency.

“It was the wrong choice back then and it’s even more clearly the wrong choice now, and we are reaping the consequences of that,” said Duckett, according to the Nine Entertainment newspapers on Friday.

“We were much, much more narrow in our investment decisions than practically every other advanced economy in the world. Other countries hedged their bets across six, seven or eight vaccines, but we only chose four.”

The government has signed agreements to acquire vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna, the first two of which have been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

However, access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which Australia bought 53.8 million doses, has been limited to over-60s on the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Duckett said many people over 60 had lost confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine after the decision to limit its use.

“We really have to get vaccination rates up amongst people over 60 up to the 95 percent level,” he said.

“That is critical, but realistically that might not happen until more Pfizer is available.”

The move to restrict access to the AstraZeneca vaccine was a significant blow to a rollout that was plagued by supply issues in its early stages.

The government earlier aimed to have 4 million Australians vaccinated by the end of March and the entire adult population would be vaccinated by October.

The 4 million doses milestone was not reached until May 28 and the government is now aiming for all willing recipients to have at least one vaccine dose by the end of 2021.

“At our current pace of roughly 780,000 doses a week, we can expect to reach the 40 million doses needed to fully vaccinate Australia’s adult population in mid April 2022,” said the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in May declared that the vaccine rollout was “not a race” but Covid-19 outbreaks in Melbourne and Sydney have increased political pressure to vaccinate the country with an election due in 2022.

Bill Bowtell, a strategic health policy consultant from the University of New South Wales, said Australia was “behind every comparable country” on vaccines.

“We’re here because a year ago the Australian government, with eyes wide open, rejected the logical thing to do, which was to back every horse in the race,” he said.