So far, during the pandemic, Australia has been widely praised for its handling of the coronavirus.
But when it comes to vaccinations, it has fallen behind other countries and failed to meet its own goals.
Last week it missed its first major deadline by 85% – delivering four million doses by March.
Under fire from criticism, Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the delay on the European Union’s blocking of certain shipments of AstraZeneca vaccines.
“[It] was a supply issue. It’s plain and simple, “he said at a press conference on Tuesday.” There have been over three million doses from overseas that never arrived. “
But is that the main reason Australia’s vaccination program has fallen so behind schedule?
What is the context?
Australia’s initial efforts to obtain vaccines looked promising. The country was among the first to announce an order with AstraZeneca, and it also announced its local manufacturing capacity for the vaccine with medical company CSL.
Australia is using a mix of vaccines, including Pfizer and potential Novavax products, to immunize its population of 25 million people.
It depends mostly on the AstraZeneca vaccine and last year the country placed an order for 3.8 million doses. These doses of the pharmaceutical giant were to be delivered by January.
However, that month, as European authorities faced a third spiraling wave in their countries, the European Commission implemented an export ban on some vaccine orders.
In March, the European Commission blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia. He argued that Australia had very low local infection rates and that there was a greater need for the vaccine in Europe.
At the time, Australia played down this decision. Health Minister Greg Hunt said “a shipment” of just 250,000 doses would not affect Australia’s deployment plans and had not even been “factored into” the first phase of the process. country distribution.
Mr Hunt also highlighted Australia’s local capacity. CSL would soon be producing around a million doses per week, he said. This target was not met.
How has Australia’s deployment progressed?
Australia is in the second stage of its four-phase deployment. Doses are offered to people over 70 years of age, people living in nursing homes for the elderly, frontline health workers, emergency service workers, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. over 55 and those with underlying health conditions.
Yet to date, less than a million people have received a vaccine. Failure to meet its March target has heightened concerns among Australians.
This week, Mr Morrison came out balanced, blaming European authorities for blocking the offer.
The Australian government said it had only received 700,000 doses of its order of AstraZeneca. 3.1 million doses are missing, according to Morrison.
In response, the European Commission said on Tuesday it had only delayed a single shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia.
At a press conference hours later, Mr Morrison told reporters the situation was “just mathematical.”
“3.1 million out of 3.8 million doses did not reach Australia. This obviously had a very significant impact on the rapid roll-out of the immunization program.”
The European Commission has not yet had the opportunity to respond to Mr Morrison’s requests.
Who is to blame?
The picture is not clear.
Australia’s contradictions over the impact of the European bloc on AstraZeneca’s supplies have left many confused. Questions have also been raised as to why the government did not make contingencies when the AstraZeneca order was disrupted.
The lack of public information on the progress of immunization in Australia also made it difficult to assess the progress of the deployment.
For example, Australians receive daily updates on the number of people who have received an injection. But there are no details on how many doses exist in the country, nor the rate of local production at CSL.
The government said this week it would seek to provide better public data. Still, critics note that before the government identified supply issues, Canberra had sought to downplay concerns about the pace – saying the vaccine rollout did not require an emergency.
The government had also rejected or failed to respond to disturbing reports from people on the frontlines.
In recent weeks, doctors administering the vaccine at their clinics have expressed concerns about the lack of vaccine supply. The national union of general practitioners denounced the problem.
Two state governments – New South Wales and Queensland – accused the federal government of failing to provide certainty on the number of vaccines that would be issued. In turn, this had slowed down the scheduling of dates.
“We are so far behind every pledge Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt have given to the Australian people,” Labor opposition Health Minister Mark Butler said on Wednesday. “Surely they have to admit it’s not going well.”
Mr Morrison said that once the vaccine is made available to the entire population, the pace will inevitably accelerate.
The objectives have also been adjusted. Instead of having all Australians fully vaccinated by October, the government will now aim for all Australians to have received their first vaccine by October.