It’s not surprising that Australia has botched the vaccine rollout. The federal government has repeatedly shown itself to be very capable at announcing things and absolutely incapable at actually doing them.
In this case, the bureaucrat running the vaccine rollout — former chief medical officer and long-time administrator Brendan Murphy — has always been clear about the government’s real intentions. On March 22, Murphy stated: “We do not have community transmission in Australia. We have the time to do it properly”.
This has been a constant theme: slow equals safe, we don’t need to rush. Morrison even tried to show just how safe Australia was being when criticising the UK. (He wrongly claimed the UK was not running basic safety tests on the AstraZeneca vaccine).
But when the success of the vaccination rollouts in the US, UK and Israel became clear and Brisbane was thrown into lockdown — just in time to destroy billions of dollars of internal tourism — Morrison did a quick reverse ferret. The cautious vaccinator started admonishing the states for not vaccinating quickly enough.
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Morrison and Murphy have form on this. More than a year ago, I noted “we have a flip-flopping and publicity-hungry PM way out of his depth, being advised by a kidney expert turned hospital executive who seems even more out of his depth”.
But a national vaccine rollout is not an easy thing to flip-flop on because a ramp-up will take time. As tech guru Paul Bassat tweeted yesterday, “over the past 7 days Uruguay going 8x faster than us, US 7x, UK 5x, Canada and France 3x”.
Morrison’s lifelong history of incompetence combined with rat cunning and fundamental dishonesty means he’s possibly the worst person to be leading Australia during a pandemic. While the states are far from blameless, the federal government’s vaccine strategy always seemed like it was designed to avoid criticism from anti-vaxxers, rather than to ensure the fastest possible rollout.
It started with the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) relatively lengthy review process (which Morrison was trying to defend when he criticised the UK in January). Unlike many other countries, Australia doesn’t have an emergency-use authorisation, so the TGA needed to undertake a more fulsome approval process. This is why the UK started vaccinating people in early December and Australia started almost three full months later. It then took the TGA almost five extra months to approve CSL’s Melbourne-made vaccine.
When Anthony Albanese justifiably questioned why we were taking so long, Morrison reverted to form. “You don’t rush to failure,” he said. “That’s very dangerous for Australians … for the vaccine to be successful, Australians have to have confidence in it.”
It is likely that the federal government opted for a GP rollout because it is so fearful of people hesitating to take the vaccine. Presumably Morrison and Hunt thought using a trusted GP network over the far more efficient mass vaccination centres used by the UK and US would reduce the population’s weariness (even though Australians have long been among the world’s most willing vaccinators).
Then you’ve got the states, who haven’t exactly been helping. On Friday, Victoria decided to close its small number of vaccination hubs for Easter to give staff “a rest”. The struggling tourism, live entertainment and CBD dining sectors would no doubt love to have a rest too; sadly they’re too busy working out how to make payroll as JobKeeper ends.
The Easter break certainly didn’t slow the US vaccination push, with a record 4 million people vaccinated in a single day.
Australians aren’t dying, but parts of the community are absolutely suffering. In a nation of snap lockdowns and border closures, we can’t afford to take things so slowly.
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