States go their own way on vaccine rollout

·3-min read

State and territory governments are starting to go their own way on the coronavirus vaccine rollout, with growing calls to rethink the national strategy.

The federal government wants to focus on priority groups through a staggered approach.

But NSW has thrown the doors open to people aged between 40 and 49, while South Australia has announced people from the age of 16 in regional areas are now eligible for the vaccine.

Labor MP Bill Shorten, whose home state of Victoria is gripped by a fresh outbreak, wants the coalition to redraft its plans.

He said the tiered approach might have been a good idea to begin with, but was not working in practice.

"Why on earth can't people under the age of 50, if they choose to, go to vaccination hubs and get vaccinated?" he said.

"Perhaps people weren't worried when there wasn't the risk of an outbreak, but now there is a risk of an outbreak and more lockdowns, now is the time for the government to stop tinkering at the edges.

"Let's just get on and vaccinate Australia."

Fresh restrictions are being introduced across Melbourne as the COVID-19 cluster in the city's north grew to nine cases.

All are family contacts of a man in his 60s, who became the fifth person in Melbourne's northern suburbs to test positive to COVID-19 on Tuesday morning.

Victorian contact tracers are working in overdrive after a major shopping centre in Melbourne's north was identified as an exposure site.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is not ruling out further changes to the national vaccine strategy, saying there was "no manual for COVID-19".

"We're looking at these things all the time. We have daily meetings about what we need to do and how we need to do it," he said.

"The important thing is we have tweaked and altered the way we have done things based on what the states have asked us, based on what the community expected us to do."

Just under 3.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered across the country, well short of initial targets.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said progress was being made on vaccinating "priority populations" such as aged and disability care residents.

"What we see is that we have in the priority populations that you ask about, overwhelmingly complete," he told parliament.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly is open to introducing incentives to try and boost immunisation rates, including the free beer and lottery tickets on offer overseas.

But he hoped the main incentive for Australians to get vaccinated would be to remain healthy, protect others and return to a more normal lifestyle.

Scott Morrison has walked back one potential incentive - introducing vaccine passports for uninhibited interstate travel in the event of local lockdowns.

Medical professions backed the proposal but it was opposed by premiers and some members of the federal government.

After copping some backlash and friendly fire, the prime minister claimed "passport" was the wrong word to describe his idea, and insisted he only wanted to make it easier for people to prove they had been vaccinated.