Covid Vaccination May Take Far Longer Than We Expect

Many people, myself included, hoped that coronavirus vaccine development would be immediately followed by a massive nation-wide effort to make the vaccine available to everyone within a couple of months. Think pop-up clinics already built and awaiting the vaccine’s regulatory approval, and ads for vaccine clinic staff on every social media feed.

Yet the Australian government has so far raised no such hopes. Its plan is – as is to be expected – heavy on promotional press releases and light on detail. Just last Thursday, the Health Ministry was spruiking a vaccine “mobilisation,” yet the grit of the announcement was simply that extra workers would be brought in via staff hiring agencies. This is the same tactic that brought the disastrous (but highly profitable) “surge workforce” for nursing homes.

The same day, the PM’s report from the National Cabinet meeting told us there are “extensive arrangements underway to develop the Australian vaccination Strategy [sic].” Late January 2021, and apparently we are still working on the “strategy” part. No other details were forthcoming.

Media releases suggest Morrison is not actually working on the vaccine roll-out, but palming off responsibility and blame to technical officers.

A more expansive document appeared on 7 January. By more expansive, I mean it was a five-slide Powerpoint with charts describing who would be vaccinated first. This is a simple regurgitation of norms already set in Europe and North America, which specify priority vaccination for the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, et cetera.

Yet if our plan is simply to feed the vaccine out through health channels in the same way as other countries, their progress so far is not heartening. At present, Britain does not expect to commence vaccinating the general population until the northern autumn, i.e., from September 2020. 

The US expects likewise. Biden’s nominee for surgeon-general, Dr Vivek Murthy, told CNN, “If everything goes well, we may see a circumstance where, by late spring, people who are in lower risk categories can get this vaccine, but that would really require everything to go exactly on schedule. I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer, early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population.”

Californian officials have been even more pessimistic/realistic. They estimate vaccinating just those over 65 will take another 4 – 5 months.

The slow pace of vaccinations is somewhat understandable, however, in countries grappling with a massive second-wave of infections. When health infrastructure and staff are already over-capacity dealing with the sick, vaccination is bound to hit bottlenecks.

The Australian government has no such excuses. Let’s hope that this time they prove uncharacteristically ready to grasp the gravity of this moment in history. Unless the current trajectory changes radically, we are on track to be going unvaccinated into winter 2021, and that means more deaths and more financial pain.

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