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Nimble Failure: The Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Program

“I am not going to be talking about numbers today,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told Australia’s Radio National on April 12. This echoed suggestions from the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who had adopted the position that Australia best forget meeting any clear vaccination targets. Having left battling the pandemic to State governments, the Federal government has found itself unable to execute its program, if one dare call it that.

Part of the monumental failings of the government can be put down to its stubbornness in prioritising the use of one vaccine. AstraZeneca was meant to be the vaccine wonder, the Godhead, the miraculous deliverer. CSL, Australia’s only vaccine manufacturer, was given the task of producing the majority of 54 million ordered doses at its Broadmeadows factory in Melbourne. Many of those now risk being essentially useless.

AstraZeneca’s product has been plagued by a profile that has become a ballooning public relations nightmare. While various medical authorities in Europe delayed the application of jabs fearing a possible link between the vaccine and a rare blood-clotting syndrome, Australia looked on with goggle-eyed wonder, insisting that no pause was necessary. Administrative objectives took priority over medical ones.

Last week, Morrison’s medical advisers made things even more trying by suggesting that the AstraZeneca vaccine be ruled out for those under 50. In a media release on April 8 by the Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy and Chief Medical Officer Kelly, it was revealed that they had “received very important advice” from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). ATAGI had been considering European and US findings regarding any possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and any possible cause of “thrombosis with thrombocytopenia” characterised by “blood clots with low platelet counts.”

In Europe, one in every 250,000 people who had received AstraZeneca had been diagnosed with the rare blood clot condition. But Australia had not been spared, with one patient suffering thrombosis and a low platelet count after being vaccinated on March 22.

ATAGI had recommended that those under 50 years of age should take the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine instead. “This recommendation is based on the increasing risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in older adults – and hence a higher benefit from vaccination – and a potentially increased risk of ‘thrombosis with thrombocytopenia’ following AstraZeneca vaccination among those aged under 50.”

The advisory group also recommended, obliquely, that the AstraZeneca vaccine might still be used for adults aged under 50 in cases “where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk for that individual” and the individual in question had made “an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits.” Patients, it would seem, beware.

Ominously, the health officers had to accept that the decision to accept the ATAGI advice would have “implications for the vaccine rollout program.” One of them was already in evidence by the end of last week. Victoria’s Department of Health was taking few chances. “Until updated consent forms and consumer information are available from the Commonwealth Department of Health, and immunisation teams have been familiarised with these materials, it is advised that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 is not administered to eligible persons aged under 50 years.”

Those who had made vaccination appointments for April 9 at the Royal Exhibition building in Melbourne were denied the jab. “They just turned me away,” St. John Ambulance employee Athena Stathoulas explained to the ABC. “I had no idea it was for 50s and over. I had no notification.”

The Morrison government has been scrambling. The Prime Minister announced on Friday that Australia had secured a further 20 million Pfizer vaccine doses, in addition to current orders for 20 million. He tried to distract critics by noting that 170 million doses of vaccines in total, spanning deals with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and COVAX, had been secured. (Delivery has been quite another matter.)

None of this could conceal the fact that vaccination timetables had been shredded. An October deadline had been proposed for all Australians wishing to be vaccinated to receive at least one dose. Prior to that, the government had dreamily suggested a target of 4 million vaccinated Australian adults, with all remaining adults being finished by October. On April 8, Morrison emphasised “uncertainties” and “many, many variables” that doomed any coherent planning. “This is not a certain world and we’re not on our own. The whole world is dealing with the same uncertainty.”

Government incompetence has also taken on a patriotic dimension. Stupidity can be forgivable, if it is shown to be defending the national interest. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is a startling example of this, refusing to consider how ordering other vaccines might ameliorate the problem. Having not consulted the entire Australian population on the matter, he could confidently tell Channel Nine that he did not “think any Australian would want the Chinese vaccine or the Sputnik vaccine.” He spoke of an approach “calm and methodical about making sure that we give the best vaccine with confidence, and however long it takes”.

The National COVID-19 Commission, through member Jane Halton, is also of the same view. “The trick now is for people to calm down a little bit and get back to basics.” Pfizer would be the stand-in hero here. Think, warbles Halton, that “there will be 40 million doses in total” of it.

The current state of calm, understanding of basics, and methodical application means that a further two years will be required for Australians to be fully vaccinated. Daily tallies such as 27,209 are a far cry from the suggested number put forth by epidemiologist Mary-Louise McClaws, who opines that a total between 100,000 and 120,000 would be eminently more suitable.

AstraZeneca’s future is not promising in other respects. The European Medicine Agency is currently reviewing reports on a possible cause of capillary leak syndrome. Other drug titans are also not being spared scrutiny, with Johnson & Johnson’s own Janssen vaccine potentially being tarnished by the same blood clot problem. “At present, no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events and the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine,” stated the company in an email.

The damage, certainly in terms of public relations and the vaccination program, deepens. But in Australia, the issue cuts deeper. Bureaucratic incompetence has become the Siamese twin of unoriginal selections and poor supply lines. With the State governments having performed the lion’s share of the work protecting populations from COVID-19, the Federal government has shown various, fabulous ways of soiling the stable. A near future of closed borders, snap lockdowns and an increasingly enfeebled economy, seems likely.

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11 comments

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  1. RomeoCharlie29

    One can’t help but get the impression that the whole process has f vaccine development has been rushed. Way back at the beginning we were being told a vaccine would be unlikely before the end of this year ( 2021) and it now seems as if that is the most likely scenario given the issues arising. As I sit here aged 75, in the safest part of the supposedly safest country I am thinking I am in no hurry to get the jab. One thing is crystal clear, the federal government and Morrison and Hunt in particular have handled the vaccine issue appallingly, their utter bullshit is coming back to haunt them and I hope that remains the case until the election. In that regard I wonder whether Morrison might use the pandemic to extend his term in the hope things might get better

  2. New England Cocky

    Yet another reminder that Scummo & Co are unfit to be the Australian government because they do NOT represent the best interests of ALL Australian voters.

    It’s time .. AGAIN!!

  3. leefe

    RomeoCharlie:

    The research and testing has not been unduly rushed. One of the main reasons for the rapid production of CoVID vaccines is that work has been ongoing on SARS vaccines since the first SARS scare. The CoVID-19 vaccines are tweaked versions of what had been developed for those earlier viruses, so there is some two decades of research behind them. Funding is usually one of the most problematic parts of medical R&D – these vaccines have had money (and lots of it) thrown at them from the start. Plus there have been groups working across the globe.

    The vaccines have been tested on the usual number of people with the usual spread of demographic groups.

    CoVID-19 vaccines have been produced quicker than any other because of our increased medical knowledge and a concerted worldwide effort. It is not due to “rushing” the research.

  4. Kathryn

    More proof that everything – absolutely EVERYTHING – Morrison says is bullshit and EVERYTHING he does turns to SHIT in record time! He is the laziest, most useless, non-achieving, bone-idle PM in our history! Sloth Morrison couldn’t organise a free shout in an outback pub, has zero initiative and not one iota of credibility! The ONLY time this political parasite gets out of a deck chair is when any action he does will provide long-term benefit to HIMSELF!

  5. Harry Lime

    Under the astute and understated ‘leadership’ of our country,during this epoch defining emergency,the Liar’s ferocious determination to prove himself a fool for all seasons has him exposed in all his naked incompetence.The midnight oil should be getting a serious burning in the fetid maze of the Lying Nasty Party.Take a number, and step right up.Elsewhere,I have cancelled an appointment for the jab next Sunday,such is my considered opinion of the Liar’s inability to utter the truth,and I know I’m not alone.

  6. Old bloke

    When you consider that Morrison and those he represents (the business community) were very much against any lockdowns or border closures so as the keep business buzzing along. Well, it seems to me that all of that can be avoided by having the population vaccinated. That was meant to be the priority and they made a mess of it. What beggars belief is that the business community has not been critical of the government for this failure and the damage done to business with China. Are they so rusted on that they cannot even make recommendations to ‘their’ government to get on with the job? But I suppose if your real priority as a government is spend most of your time and energy on staying in power, then I suppose there just isn’t enough time to do proper planning. Morrison doesn’t have to do the actual planning himself, there was a public service that, before it was nobbled and replaced by advisor mates. Those with experience in national planning have been sidelined and it has been left to spivs and shonks.

  7. TuffGuy

    That is a government that clearly abdicated ALL responsibilities for anything related to the pandemic, leaving the State governments to deal with everything. Then along came vaccine time and the Morriscum government finally put their hands up to handle it all by themselves, their big chance to become the heroes of the pandemic by negotiating, buying and distributing the vaccine to all and sundry, ensuring we all get jabbed so we can open our borders and get everything back to normal.
    Well they made big announcements (as usual) about their negotiation skills, big announcements about the millions of doses ordered from overseas, big announcements about the millions of doses being locally produced, big announcements about how many millions would get the jabs. Then the (as many would say) expected result, complete and utter failure. Only 600k of a target of 4 million got the jab by the end of march, the vaccine completion target went from October 2021 to next year to sometime in the future, a complete failure in communications to all those administering the jabs, complete failure in communications to all citizens, complete failure to meet any target for any group, complete failure in receiving or producing or distributing announced doses and complete failure in accepting any responsibility for their own complete failures.
    On April 8, Morriscum emphasised “uncertainties” and “many, many variables” that doomed any coherent planning. “This is not a certain world and we’re not on our own. The whole world is dealing with the same uncertainty.” If the whole world is dealing with the same uncertainty then how come they are rolling out vaccine doses by the millions (to our puny few hundred thousand) taking us from (allegedly) the head of the queue to 104th on the list??????????????????
    Morriscum has talked up very big about the re-opening of our borders yet this is now delayed indefinitely because of his governments incompetence. You would not ask this mob to organise a chook raffle at the local pub.

  8. Williambtm

    The lowly regarded people of Australia are in wonder why our nation must contend with a lying treacherous to Australia L/NP leadership government that fails to provide any identifiable benefit to the people of our nation?

    Now more than ever before Australia is being targeted by the USA as a huge plunderable mining resource where there is no call by our current government to halt the plunders by America’s global mining interests.
    Furthermore, the US global mining shysters have no intention to pay their due Australian taxes, also to lay a claim to commodities that are not their own.

    The USA is something similar to a band of pirates or a band of plunderers, a cross-purposes spy agency that has chosen to introduce their Arms and Weapons manufacturing tyrants all, bristling with their unwholesome militaristic stratagems to gorge on the Australian people generated revenues.

    There is the distinct possibility that America presents itself as a more dangerous foe to our nation than does China.
    Now let that notion sink into the minds of Australia’s people.

    The Anzus Treaty is no longer tenable due to New Zealand telling America to wrack off with their nuclear-armed or even nuclear-powered war vessels.
    The objective of New Zealand was to establish a nuclear-free zone in their region of the Pacific Ocean.
    Indeed I fail to find a reason why New Zealand should not proceed with its nuclear-free zone as they are free to proceed with that honorable national endeavor?

    Those who object will only do so to enable the USA to build up a stronger force of war vessels to patrol that which they claim as their own, which it is not, being the world’s greatest ocean expanse as is the Pacific Ocean.

    Already America has the largest number of overseas military bases that permit the US to smuggle any form of contraband cargo from any location on this earth into their own country.

    America already lays claim to the highest proportion of our terra firma, certainly, so it is not China.

    The USA has its history of initiating wars between whoever they choose to bomb kill and destroy, I don’t see that as providing any possible benefit to our nation.
    If one is made to realize that Australia is no longer the land of the free… where people from across the world could enter and create a life without the oppression that is now extant across the entire world.

  9. George Halicki

    Scummo and company have proved themselves inept.

    Considering they palmed off responsibility for quarantine to the states, buried their poor handling for aged care, allowed a report to sit on Porter’s desk for over a year on women being sexually harassed, unable to tell the truth on vaccine orders to name but a few issues.

    Now, if they cannot coordinate the logistics to distribute a vaccine over the last 12 months, how can they run the country. ?

  10. GL

    I call “Bullshit!” on this statement –

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/mass-vaccinations-on-agenda-in-national-deal-to-protect-australians-by-christmas-20210414-p57j5u.html

    Here we go yet again, it’s all going to happen in the future and when it gets well and truly stuffed up we will be assailed with another case of selective amnesia and excuseitis they oh-so conveniently suffer when it blows up in their faces. A new round of future promises will ensue. Round and round and…

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