'Truly insane': Outrage over minister's 'irresponsible' message

The extent of Covid vaccine hesitancy in Australia is prompting warnings from public health experts as concern grows about the country's sluggish inoculation program.

The slow pace of the rollout has fed frustrations among some in the community about the prospect of international borders remaining closed for longer.

Those tensions were on display in reaction to comments made on Thursday by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt as he sought to allay concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 50s.

"Right now, we want to encourage everybody over 50 to be vaccinated as early as possible," he said, before offering a caveat.

"But we've been very clear that, as supply increases later on in the year, there will be enough vaccine of mRNA vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna] for every Australian."

The suggestion for people to hold off, against the recommendations of government health officials, drew heavy criticism given the country's vaccine rollout is already months behind schedule.

"This is tantamount to sabotaging the vaccine rollout. What a disgrace," Chris Edmond, a professor of economics at the University of Melbourne, tweeted.

"This is a truly insane thing to say," fellow assistant professor Steven Hamilton remarked.

Others criticised the "ridiculous", "terrible" and "irresponsible" messaging from the government as it doubles down on the "fortress Australia" approach to keeping international borders closed well into 2022.

It comes as there is mounting pressure for a national advertising and information campaign urging Australians to get vaccinated for Covid-19.

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Unvaccinated Australians are 'sitting ducks'

Doctors are calling for a national campaign to encourage Australians to get vaccinated.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said he feared complacency had set in and warned outbreaks from more infectious variants in Australia could happen, saying those unvaccinated would be "sitting ducks".

"I would say as somebody who's sitting in some of those meetings and seeing for example what's happening overseas where there's a tsunami of Covid and also the development of variants, that we're sitting ducks as a country and as individuals until we get a significant portion of the population vaccinated, particularly those over 50," he told the ABC.

Mr Moy and the AMA have worked closely with the government on its vaccine strategy and previously told Yahoo News Australia: "The AMA's position is that we should be following the advice of independent scientific experts that got us through this."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to the Sydney Local Health District Vaccination Hub in Camperdown. Source: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to the Sydney Local Health District Vaccination Hub in Camperdown. Source: Getty

More than 3.2 million Australians have now received a Covid-19 jab, with the daily pace of the rollout ticking up as the states ramp up their mass vaccination hubs.

Mr Hunt said public health officials were constantly reviewing advertising campaigns for vaccines, and were also looking at new ways for leaders to talk about jab safety.

"Although we're safe, we're not immune," he said.

"And the one thing that gives immunity is the vaccination."

The more people are vaccinated the less risk there would be of state border lockdowns, Mr Hunt said.

The minister's office declined to comment on the backlash to his earlier comments.

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