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Australia's Covid vaccine rollout needs to change tack and incorporate large-scale vaccine hubs if it has any chance of meeting targets, health experts say.
The country's rollout has fallen well behind schedule in the early months and there are growing calls for mass vaccination sites, relying on stadiums, schools and public parks to help turn things around.
Leading Australian epidemiologist and WHO adviser, Mary-Louise McLaws, says without such hubs many Australians will likely be waiting until next year to get fully vaccinated.
“They’re not going to meet their targets," she told Yahoo News Australia of the government's current rollout plan.
Initially the Morrison government said all Australians would be fully vaccinated by the end of October but that has since been revised to receiving at least one dose by the end of the year.
"I've crunched the numbers and we're going to need at least 130,000 injections per day," she said. To date, the average according to Prof McLaws has been about 22,000 per day.
The government, however, says local production will see the rollout ramp up significantly in the coming weeks, but has been unclear about details of domestically produced vaccine supply.
Mass vaccination hubs could be used to 'catch up'
Prof McLaws said the current rate of inoculations will need to increase more than fourfold. In order to do that, she thinks large-scale hubs should be incorporated to help "catch up" to targets and allow more groups the chance to be vaccinated.
"Stadiums, high schools in every suburb, universities or parks," she said.
"As soon as high schools close at 3:30pm or 4pm, they could set up an assembly hall to vaccinate people" with doctors and ambulances on site.
Overseas, the United States turned facilities such as Disneyland into vaccine hubs, while other countries have taken a similar approach, using car parks and public parks to administer jabs.
“Israel does a lot of theirs in parks, and they go through enormous numbers."
Prof McLaws said mass vaccination sites have “been a common tactic to every single outbreak since the polio vaccine was developed.”
She spoke with Health Minister Greg Hunt last week but said the government appeared reluctant to deviate from its plan to predominantly rely on more than 4,500 GP clinics across the country to administer the jabs.
“I think our authorities are very disinclined to turn around when something is not working," Prof Mclaws said.
"I mentioned [mass vaccine hubs] to Health Minister Greg Hunt last week," she told Yahoo News Australia. "There is a great deal of belief in the current rollout system."
Mass vaccination sites are urgently needed. Current av. rate after last 6 weeks is just 22,000 doses/day. I calculate to have 85% population vaccinated by end of year we need 133,000/day every day from tomorrow to Dec 31 plus 70,000/day every day from Jan 1-Mar 31 2022.
— Mary-Louise McLaws (@MarylouiseMcla1) April 5, 2021
PM says supply issues to blame for slow start
On Tuesday afternoon, Scott Morrison said the rollout using GP clinics will ramp up but a lack of supply has slowed efforts after shipments from overseas were blocked.
"The strategy has always been to use the primary healthcare network," he said, because GPs have existing relationships with patients, particularly with vulnerable populations who are being vaccinated first.
When pressed on how many local doses Aussie biotech giant CSL had produced in Melbourne, he said supply targets were nearly being met.
"At this point, we are hoping to achieve the figures that have already been realised which is around the 800,000 mark," he said.
He also pledged more transparency with data relating to the national rollout after the government came up pressure for being opaque about the details.
To date, more than 850,000 Australians have received a jab.
Labor calls for stadium-style rollout
Labor has thrown its support behind establishing stadium-style coronavirus vaccination hubs to speed up the national rollout.
The Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said the current strategy was not working and it was time for new ideas.
"I don't understand why the Commonwealth is so resistant to an idea that has been rolled out in pretty much every country I have looked at around the world," he told ABC radio on Tuesday morning.
"These large vaccination centres of the type that state governments would be able to operate fairly straightforwardly are the way in which other countries are racing ahead of Australia in their vaccine rollout."
Mr Butler also wants pharmacists brought into the rollout sooner after chemists warned they had been delayed by a month and would not start administering coronavirus jabs until June.
He said it was unfair to force general practices to go it alone.
"I don't think the numbers lie. And the numbers show how far behind we are. The strategy put together by the Commonwealth is not working," Mr Butler said.
"There's just not enough hands at the wheel and the Commonwealth has got to recognise that."
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