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Botched vaccine rollout holds Australia 'hostage'

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Australia's troubled vaccine rollout will have major consequences. <em>(Image: Getty).</em>
Australia's troubled vaccine rollout will have major consequences. (Image: Getty).

Australia’s botched COVID vaccine rollout will cost more than $1.4 billion, with the country essentially “held hostage” until the vaccination program is successfully completed, politicians are warning.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she fears Australia will be left behind unless the Federal Government acts urgently to vaccinate the population.

“There will come a point when the rest of the world starts engaging with each other more and we can’t afford to be left behind,” Berejiklian said on Monday.

“I know that some people don’t think there is a sense of urgency because we’re doing so well, but things can change very quickly and I don’t want to see our citizens left behind because the rest of the world starts trading with each other, starts travelling. I do have a sense of urgency about it.”

Australia's vaccine roll-out is ranked 104th around the world, with 1.16 million vaccines being dispensed. The Government had initially intended to have 20 million adults fully vaccinated by the end of October. 

That was later amended to be a goal for first doses. That target has now been abandoned entirely. 

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday said Australians are being “held hostage” by the rollout.

Speaking to Today, the MP said Australians’ confidence in the vaccine has been undermined first by logistics failures and then by concerns about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently not recommended for people under 50 due to fears of blood clotting, with Pfizer now the preferred vaccine for younger people.

However, while the Government has secured 20 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine, they’re not due to be available until the final quarter of the year.

“It’s a very bad week for timelines for Australians. The reality is that Australians are being held hostage to a botched vaccine rollout,” Shorten said.

“I mean, people were hoping that the vaccines were a path or a ticket back to normal. But now we find out that travel might not be a thing until 2024.

“And it’s really, I think, undermined the confidence of a lot of Australians, especially younger ones, in the vaccine program full stop. It’s very bad news.”

Research released on Monday by the McKell Institute found that the cost of the vaccine delay will likely exceed $1.4 billion.

Even if Australia were to increase its vaccination rate to match the UK, which is currently vaccinating at the second-fastest rate in the world, it would still take another 116 days to achieve herd immunity from the initial August 2021 date.

Those added days of lockdown will come at a cost of $1.368 billion at least. But if Australia were to vaccinate at the same rate as Germany, the prolonged lockdown cost would balloon to $4.164 billion.

“Australia’s vaccination program has failed to meet its targets and it's incomprehensible that we will catch up. Our leaders need to accept the additional risks of delay and act,” said McKell Institute executive director Michael Buckland.

"Additional support measures for vulnerable people and businesses must be considered in response to the delay."

Calls for compensation

The AstraZeneca concerns have prompted calls for a no-fault compensation scheme.

Under such a scheme, patients would be eligible for redress from the Government without needing to pursue compensation through the legal system.

Australians who receive the vaccine in the name of the public good should also be entitled to compensation if the vaccine results in injury, according to a proposal published in the Australian Journal of Public Practice last year.

“A vaccine injury compensation scheme compensates individuals who have a vaccine injury following administration of properly manufactured vaccines. Australia, in stark contrast to 25 other countries including the USA, UK and New Zealand does not have a no-fault vaccine injury compensation scheme,” the researchers said.

“Individuals who experience a vaccine injury must bear the costs associated with their injury by themselves or access treatment via our publicly-funded health system, but they will not receive any compensation for their injury and suffering.”

Medicines Australia chief executive Liz de Somer also reignited calls for a compensation scheme this week, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that a scheme like this would boost people’s confidence in the vaccine.

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Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance