Australia’s latest Pfizer vaccine delivery offers hope for rollout stuck in transit

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday July 21, 2021

vaccine delivery truck
Just over 11% of Australia’s population had been fully vaccinated at July 19. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Home affairs minister Karen Andrews told Australians on Monday that the arrival of almost 1 million does of the Pfizer vaccine offered a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the nation’s COVID-19 concerns, with three cities now in lockdown and growing public sentiment that the federal government squandered the opportunity to get the rollout right when it first had the chance.  

The symbol of the hope that Monday’s Pfizer delivery represented was posted to Andrews’ Twitter followers in the form of a large cargo pallet being unloaded from an air carrier. 

But the media rounds that the minister has been doing suggest her promise of hope with about 1 million weekly shipments of additional Pfizer vaccine has a few caveats. 

“We have a commitment of close to a million doses a week of Pfizer coming in, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Andrews told ABC’s RN morning program, sidestepping a question about how the delivery would improve the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine timeline.

“We want to make sure that we’re not giving false promises to people. We are working as hard as we can, as fast as we can, as are many Australians to get those vaccinations happening. And we will continue to do that.

Andrews said that the additional doses of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine demonstrated the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine logistics program was well underway. 

“I’m very confident about what our future is in Australia. Now, I’m certainly not going to over-egg this because we all have a way to go but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Andrews said. 

With NSW, Victoria and South Australia either extending or announcing new lockdown restrictions as a result of community transmission of the virus’ Delta variant, and messaging from state governments that the risk of more lockdowns loom large in the absence of adequate vaccine supply, pressure is mounting on the federal government to make good on its promises. 

From 19 July just over 11% of Australia’s population of 20 million people had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That leaves a 4.9 million gap in doses of the vaccine administered today compared against the federal government’s current target.

Australia: What share of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19?

Initially the government aimed to have 4 million people vaccinated by March, 2021, and most Australians vaccinated by October. Those figures were then revised based on supply issues of the Pfizer vaccine and limitations to do with domestic capacity to produce mRNA vaccines (Australia currently has the capability to manufacture the AstraZeneca).

New modelling released by the McKell Institute this week has called for the federal government to utilise pharmacies to help achieve a vaccination target of 80% of the population sooner. According to the institute, doing so would bring forward the projected date to hit this target by two months and save the national economy $12.3 billion.

The government itself has floated the idea with big business to garner their support for the rollout with workplace vaccination programs later in the year

Andrews acknowledged that the logistical complexity of the rollout program would mean it would be a matter of months before every person who wanted a Pfizer shot could receive it.

Australians who are currently eligible for the Pfizer vaccine in the government’s own priority group have reported that their booking to receive a shot of the mRNA shot is still six weeks away. 

Until Monday, Australia’s available Pfizer supply allowed for about 300,000 and 350,000 doses to be administered each week, but demand has since risen beyond this figure.

“It’s not going to be an overnight situation where everyone can get vaccinated straightaway,” Andrews said. 

“We will be looking at how we ramp that up. And, yes, it will be over the coming weeks and months that we make sure that as many people who want to get vaccinated have access to a vaccine.”

The minister added that the government’s Pfizer supplies, which were forecast to be an additional million coming into the country every week, would mean its plan to have 2.8 million vaccinations administered in August would ramp up to 4.5 million in that month (that number was not expected until September). 

A review of a federal plan for the rollout that was released in March shows that Australia is about eight months behind schedule. Australia’s vaccine rollout has ranked last out of 38 OECD nations for the percentage of the population who have been fully inoculated against the virus. 

States count the days of lockdown

On Monday Victorian premier Daniel Andrews foreshadowed that the five-day snap lockdown in his state would be extended. The next day he confirmed that daily positive COVID cases in double figures and 250 recorded exposure sites across the state would mean another seven days at least of lockdown. 

The end of Victoria’s latest lockdown has now been set for midnight Thursday 27 July.

“We cannot put Victoria’s hard-earned gains at risk by letting this Delta variant run free. We want Victoria back open as soon as possible – and we’ll do everything in our power to get us there safely and quickly,” Mr Andrews said.

South Australian premier Stephen Marshall announced a seven day stay-at-home lockdown for citizens in his state, arguing that a ‘go hard, go fast’ approach was essential to get on top of the Delta variant that had leaked into the state. 

The new restrictions mean that schools in SA will be closed for the next week and only children of essential workers will be permitted to attend preschool, childcare or school. 

South Australians must wear face masks in public spaces and are permitted to leave their homes for five reasons only:

  1. Care and compassionate reasons, such as taking care of a loved one
  2. Essential work
  3. Purchasing of essential goods such as food
  4. Medical reasons including COVID testing and vaccination
  5. Exercise with people from your household.

“Together we will get through this challenge because South Australians are strong, resilient and united,” Marshall said. 

“The next week will be difficult for many South Australians, but we must go hard and we must go early to get ahead of this virus.”

Meanwhile, residents of NSW are facing the news that modelling suggests its lockdown must last until at least September to suppress case numbers. On Tuesday the state recorded 78 new cases, 27 of whom were moving about the community while infectious. The source of 29 cases are under investigation by NSW Health. 

The modelling developed by the Populations Intervention Unit at the University of Melbourne showed that if the lockdown can end once the average number of new daily COVID-19 cases in NSW falls below five, that should happen by 4 September.


READ MORE:

Pharmacies key to hitting Australia’s 80% COVID-19 vaccination target

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