Health minister under fire over vaccines

·3-min read

Health Minister Greg Hunt has fiercely defended Australia's sluggish vaccine rollout in a series of heated interviews, with the federal government under fire over the Victorian lockdown.

Mr Hunt described the vaccine program as an "extraordinary achievement" even though only a fraction of the population have received their jabs.

He said Australia was on track to pass four million vaccinations, equivalent to 20 per cent of the adult population.

Some 41,000 doses were handed out in Victoria in the past 24 hours alone, he said, as the state deals with its latest outbreak.

"We are focusing on protecting those who are most vulnerable, and we keep urging people to come forward to be tested and come forward to be vaccinated," Mr Hunt told Seven on Friday.

"Australians are doing a fantastic job, and it's very important to put in perspective the extraordinary achievement of Australians and Australia."

But only 500,000 people - about two per cent of the population - have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Australia was meant to reach the four million jab milestone in March.

However, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Friday stressed the importance of even the first dose.

"Zero doses give you no protection. One dose gives a very good protection quite quickly," he said.

Mr Hunt also pushed back against claims some people were waiting to get vaccinated because the federal government had given them the impression there was no rush.

"That's false, that's not something I've ever said," he told Seven.

However, the prime minister has commented on many occasions the vaccine rollout was not a race.

And Mr Hunt last week suggested older Australians concerned about the AstraZeneca jab could wait until the end of the year to receive alternative vaccines instead.

He later backtracked on the comments because they were seen as encouraging vaccine hesitancy.

Many aged care residents are still waiting for their first jab, despite being included in the highest priority group.

More than 40 aged care facilities across the country have not received their first doses, but Mr Hunt expected that figure to drop to 25 by close of business on Friday.

"By the end of today we will have 99 per cent of the aged care facilities vaccinated and we are expecting to complete the first dose vaccinations in Victoria," he said.

"To have every aged care facility vaccinated in Victoria provides an enormous degree of protection."

Victoria has entered a seven-day lockdown, which health authorities hope will act as a circuit-break and stop the spread of a highly contagious strain of coronavirus.

The state recorded four new locally acquired cases on Friday, bringing a cluster of Melbourne infections to 30.

The outbreak was caused by a breach in hotel quarantine, again exposing the lack of purpose-built facilities.

Mr Hunt said discussions were ongoing about Victoria's proposed quarantine facility but it was still some months away.

Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten took aim at the federal government over the Victorian outbreak.

"Some people say we shouldn't talk about blame and fault - I can understand that," he told reporters.

"But as a Melburnian I can't help but wonder if the Morrison government had an app that worked, if they had a public health campaign encouraging people to be vaccinated, if they had built some quarantine facilities fit for purpose, and if they had rolled out their vaccines quicker, then maybe this lockdown and all the trauma could have been avoided."

The state government is preparing to announce a support package for small businesses smashed by the lockdown, with the restrictions expected to deliver a $2.5 billion hit to the Victorian economy.

There are suggestions the federal government will not offer financial help because it does not want to set a precedent.

Mr Hunt deferred questions on support to the state government, but Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Commonwealth would open its wallet if required.