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Where are we at with Australia’s COVID vaccine rollout?

We’re just under three months into our country’s vaccine rollout, and it’s safe to say Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has not gone *entirely* smoothly. Last month, Australia fell 85% short of its vaccine target. At the time of writing, 1.9 million COVID vaccinations have been administered in Australia.

Why is Australia lagging behind? 

1) AstraZeneca 
AstraZeneca doses were a fundamental part of Australia’s rollout plan. Then the European Union ordered an export ban on AstraZeneca vaccines (which Australia was relying on) after facing a harsh third-wave. This was compounded by issues domestically when cases of rare blood clotting were announced in Australia. This led to the Government recommending people under 50 to receive the Pfizer vaccine rather than AstraZeneca. The problem with this is that a significant portion of Australia’s vaccine arsenal was AstraZeneca (we ordered 53 million doses), meaning the Government’s health directive left a major hole in the rollout. 

2) Domestic production 
The issues with AstraZeneca have been compounded by domestic production issues. Production has been slower than first expected, with targets not being reached with Australian produced vaccines. More local production centres have been announced, but building the facilities takes time, and are not an immediate fix to the rollout. 

Who can get a vaccine in Australia? 
As of right now, the eligible people that can receive the vaccine in Australia are: 

  • From May 3, anyone over the age of 50 will be eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Those in aged care homes 
  • Frontline health workers 
  • Emergency services workers
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55
  • People with underlying health conditions

Despite this, people within the eligible groups have still not received their doses. 

A quick comparison: 
Let’s dive into some data (with some necessary context too). Due to Australia’s strict lockdowns and restrictions, COVID-19 cases over the pandemic have been relatively low. This has meant that our rollout plan looks different to countries that have had much higher cases and death rates. According to the latest Our World data, Australia has delivered 6.2 doses per 100 people. Our allies in comparison have delivered: 67.5 doses per 100 people in the UK and 63.3 in the U.S. But again, any comparison needs to factor in the urgency these other countries were facing.

What’s next for the rollout? 
As we said above, the Federal Government announced last week that the vaccine rollout will be fast-tracked next month to people over the age of 50 to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine (in hopes they can try use the doses they’ve already procured). An estimated 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been secured too, with people under 50 receiving those doses. However, those doses are not set to arrive in Australia until the second half of this year. At a state level, the Victorian Government is providing $50 million to “kickstart” domestic manufacturing of mRNA vaccine technology (ie domestically making Pfizer) but again, those vaccines won’t be ready for at least 12 months.

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