The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across Australia is behind time, behind volume and well behind the expectations the Morrison government foolishly built up for itself.
If there ever was a case of a government disregarding and reversing the principle so beloved of John Howard – to underpromise and overdeliver – this vaccine rollout is it, with Australia currently sandwiched between the unusual company of Bangladesh and Oman on world tables.
And for once, the states have a leg to stand on in blame-shifting to the Commonwealth.
As of now, Britain has vaccinated over half her population, more than thirty million people, with at least the first jab of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines. This is despite the European Union’s bastardry in seizing stocks of vaccines manufactured in the EU, for the EU. Australia is yet to top the million mark.
It’s one thing when a professional whinger state minister like Queensland’s Steven Miles or NSW health minister Brad Hazzard complain about the Feds’ performance. It’s another when Saint Gladys Berejiklian, the gold standard of Australian leaders through this pandemic, joins them.
The basic failings of the Australian rollout are threefold:
- The programme could not start until the slow, cumbersome but legislatively-mandated product approval processes of the Therapeutic Goods Administration were completed.
- More thought seems to have been given to obtaining the vaccines than to distributing and administering them; and
- The Commonwealth normally delivers healthcare funding, not services. In trying to create a distribution programme without adequate consultation with either the states – for which providing services is their core business – or the GP network crucial to its vaccination business model, there were always going to be tears.
And where is the extensive public information campaign that explains to the Australian public how it all works, where people fit on the priority list, and what to do to get their jabs? If there was ever a need for government advertising in newspapers, online and even interrupting Thomas the Tank Engine videos on YouTube, surely this is it.
Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, cannot be blamed for this mess. This is an unprecedented situation in which some seat-of-the-pants flying is inevitable and, to Hunt’s credit, he diplomatically has sought to lower the temperature of the inter-governmental stoush.
It rather is the fault of his ponderous health bureaucracy, whose intentions are good but whose execution, compounded by a profound lack of in-house service delivery expertise, has fallen well short. They deserve a good lashing from Hunt’s well-known sharp tongue.
States have offered their assistance and healthcare networks to assist in the vaccination effort, and these offers being accepted by the Morrison government is welcome. More general practices are now being included in the rollout network. That too is good, but would establishing mass vaccination stations be better?
Perhaps it now might be best for Hunt and his bureaucrats to pause the roll-out, take stock and resume with a revamped, more efficient and better-coordinated and communicated programme, so that the target of a fully-vaccinated nation by the end of October is a reality. A week or two’s delay can be tolerated if it accelerates the roll-out and plugs the many exposed weaknesses in the delivery network.
For, on current rates of progress, it will take at least two years to get there.
Terry Barnes is a former adviser to Tony Abbott during his time as health minister. He edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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