COVID vaccine rollout in Australia: No room for political spin

No room for political spin over vaccine rollout

I'm here from the Morrison Government - trust me, I'm here to vaccinate you.

Really?

If so, please start by telling us the truth, and nothing but, at least as you know it to date.

No more exaggerations, excuses, and blame shifting.

Stick with the science and the medical advice - drop the politics, drop the spin.

Tell us the knowns about the likely effectiveness of the different varieties of the vaccine - their impact on infection rates, on the risks of serious illness, on death rates, and so on.

Also, possible side effects, how long can we expect each to be effective, and especially as the virus mutates?

Can we re-infect?

Is herd immunity a genuine possibility? Globally?

Will we need an annual jab, as with flu shots?

How many years of data will be needed to be able to authoritatively answer some of these questions?

To be specific, is it true that that the Pfizer vaccine contains infection, whereas the AstraZeneca vaccine only reduces the risk of serious illness, and its effectiveness with say the South African mutation is less than 20 per cent?

Why were you able to have both doses of the Pfizer vaccine and most of the rest of us will have to accept the less effective AstraZeneca jab?

What happened with the Moderna negotiations?

I am told they gave up trying to do a deal with you?

What are the components of these various vaccines?

Some ethnic and religious groups have serious concerns in this respect.

What are the facts with the rollout?

I can recall your early boast as to having tied up firm commitments for 160 million doses?

What has actually happened since?

You clearly missed your commitment of 4 million vaccinations by the end March by some 85 per cent.

I see you blame "the Europeans" for this miss, but they clearly deny the accusation.

I guess we are in for a lot of "he said, she said".

The key point is that you didn't hesitate to exaggerate in the original Big Headline announcements, not worrying about the detail, or the follow through, obviously taking much for granted.

Your line now is that this "is simply a matter of supply", over which you have little control.

OTHER NEWS:

Not exactly your boast when you claimed to have "negotiated/guaranteed" supply, and thereby raised our expectations.

Time to admit openly that you were wrong, if not irresponsible, in so boasting.

You also boast to being one of the few countries that have "sovereign capability", being able to manufacture our own vaccine, but even here the rollout is still much slower than you indicated.

Your latest excuses seem to be the need for TGA and AstraZeneca "approvals", but all is clearly well short of expectations with CSL.

Clearly, the rollout is a major and very challenging logistical exercise.

I also concede that rollout is "less urgent" in Australia given our success to date in containing the spread of the virus.

But please explain why other significant countries, with more alarming infection rates have already been able to rollout to a much higher percentage of their populations?

Biden, for example, keeps bettering his rollout objectives.

There has also been significant evidence of other "glitches" in the rollout in terms of appropriate training for doctors, other medical staff and centres, and with transport for distribution.

It is a low ball response to try to blame the states for much of this, who understandably easily accuse you of playing the politics, rather than delivering on the substance of the challenge.

It seems that you have now been dragged to the point of hosing down expectations - moving from definite commitments and timetables to a world of excuses.

At the Wednesday Press Conference you claimed:

"There are a lot of variables in this process. Supply chains get disrupted. Medical evidence comes forward which requires us to address it and may cause us to make changes to the program in the interests of public health. There is an expectation, I think, of certainty and of guarantees here that the environment does not provide for and it would be very unwise, I think, to suggest that level of certainty exists around this. It simply doesn't".

As Bill Bowtell of Uni of NSW has noted, Australia already ranks about 90th in the world in terms of the speed of our vaccine rollout, sandwiched between Bolivia and Albania.

So much for all your spin, Mr Morrison.

  • John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader