Scott Morrison proposes drastic change to vaccination program

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor

Australia's Covid-19 vaccine rollout looks set to be shaken up as the government tries to "recalibrate" the scheme after a sluggish and problem-plagued start. 

The states and territory leaders will now meet with the Commonwealth twice a week in a bid to simplify the rollout and potentially introduce mass vaccination hubs to get the scheme back on track. 

Following the National Cabinet meeting on Monday, one of the items state and territory leaders agreed to “in principle” was bringing forward the AstraZeneca vaccine for anyone aged 50 and over.

Currently, phase 1a and 1b are underway which includes aged care, disability, quarantine and health care workers, as well as aged care residents, anyone with an underlying medical condition, significant disability, or aged over 70. Indigenous Australians over the age of 55 are also eligible. 

A Melbourne healthcare worker is seen handling a AstraZeneca jab.
AstraZeneca vaccines are no longer recommended for those under 50. Source: AAP

However, the government looks set to heed calls to simplify the rollout following next National Cabinet meeting on Thursday and throw open the doors to those 50 and over.

“We don’t want to see one vaccine that’s rolling off the line and going through the approval processes and the batch testing, sitting in a fridge,” Mr Morrison said Monday.

“If there’s someone over 50 who’s there and wants to take that vaccine we’ll be looking at how that can be achieved," he said, adding there were "strong arguments" to do so. 

After facing early criticism and subsequently scrapping all targets, Mr Morrison was adamant the rollout had been stalled by supply problems from overseas and any revised plan would rely on greater supply and distribution of domestically produced AstraZeneca jabs.

Morrison flags '12 week sprint' ahead of Christmas

Earlier, Mr Morrison also proposed a "12-week sprint" at the end of the year that would see some six million Australians aged under 50 vaccinated ahead of Christmas.

However, that would rely on the arrival of 20 million Pfizer vaccines which the government says have been ordered for the back half of the year, as well as the Novavax vaccine which has still not gained regulatory approval. 

Such a plan would very likely include the use of mass vaccination hubs – something health experts have long been calling for but were not in the federal government's original rollout scheme.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brought the states into the fold for a 'reset'. Source: AAP

"There’s a lot of work to be done given that would be effectively, if we wished, a 12-week sprint," the prime minister said.

"To be able to do that safely and effectively… there’d need to be plenty of planning to achieve that."

Struggling rollout gets a 'big reset'

On Monday the state and territory leaders backed the strategy of using GPs to deliver vaccinations for over-50s, with states and territories expected to play a leading role in the implementation of any vaccination hubs. 

Emerging from the meeting, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane there had been a "good discussion" about the vaccine rollout.

"It's a big reset on the vaccine rollout," she said.

"Everyone went into that room with the right attitude."

Tasmania has flagged a specific role in the reset, offering to vaccinate aged care and disability workers which were to be covered by the federal program.

Meanwhile, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Mr Morrison had committed to providing more "precise" information about vaccine supplies after the weeks of criticism over a lack of transparency. 

She said moving forward the vaccination program should give states the ability to "scale up" when supplies become available.

"We need to be ready, because the quicker we're able to vaccinate our population... the better for us, and also in terms of the economy and jobs and international trade," she told the ABC Monday night.

To date, 1.59 million doses have been administered nationally - well short of the federal government's initial target after it flagged 4 million by the end of last month. 

In a Facebook post this month, Mr Morrison scrapped targets of vaccinating the country by October. 

with AAP

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