First or last?

By January 8, 2021Australian Politics

Last August, I published an article detailing the lie Prime Minister Scott Morrison uttered about the Covid-19 vaccine plan. He said that he had an agreement with AstraZeneca PLC to provide the Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine. AstraZeneca refuted this claim, saying it was only a letter of intent. At the same time, Morrison said that “Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful.” Well, it has recently been approved by the UK regulator, as has the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. However, we look like having to wait another 2-3 months before anyone gets it in Australia. We are a long way behind many other countries in vaccinating their populace. Currently, these nations have started their vaccination programmes, with the vaccine being used and the date started in brackets.

Sputnik V: Argentina (Dec. 29); Russia (Sep.); Belarus (Dec. 29).2,3

BioNTech/Pfizer: Austria (Dec. 30); Belgium (Dec. 28); Bulgaria (Dec.) Canada (Dec. 14); Chile (Dec. 24); Costa Rica (Dec. 24); Croatia (Dec. 27); Czech Republic (Dec. 27); Denmark (Dec. 27); Estonia (Jan.); Finland (Dec. 27); France (Dec. 26); Germany (Dec. 26); Greece (Dec. 27); Hungary (Dec. 26); Iceland (Dec.); Ireland (Jan.); Israel (Dec. 19); Italy (Dec. 27); Kuwait (Dec. 24); Latvia (Jan.); Lithuania (Dec. 28); Luxembourg (Dec. 30); Malta (Dec. 27); Mexico (Dec. 24); Norway (Dec.); Oman (Dec. 27); Poland (Dec. 27); Portugal (Dec.); Qatar (Dec. 22); Romania (Dec. 27); Saudi Arabia (Dec. 17); Serbia (Dec. 24); Slovakia (Dec. 26); Slovenia (Dec.); Spain (Dec. 27); Switzerland (Dec. 23); United Arab Emirates (Dec. 14); United Kingdom (Dec. 8); United States (Dec. 8).2,3

Sinovac: Bahrain (Jan. 5); China (Dec.).2,3

So, to say we will be one of the first in the world to receive a Covid-19 vaccine was just another Trump-like lie. When the Labor Party called for an acceleration of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt disingenuously dismissed this as an attempt to ‘rush’ the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval process. However, after weeks of pressure from across the political spectrum, Hunt said Australia will accelerate its Covid-19 vaccine rollout from late to early March and has left the door open to bring it forward again ‘in line with medical advice’. This call for an earlier start to the vaccination programme is being echoed by epidemiologists who want it in response to the new, more transmissible UK strain.4

Unfortunately, earlier this week, Morrison uttered another Trump-like lie, arguing the time between the anticipated late January TGA approval and the March rollout was needed to test every batch and arrange logistics to deliver the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine (it needs to be stored at -70°C). Morrison said the UK is “not testing batches of vaccines before they’re disseminated”. This was contradicted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. They stated that batch-testing is happening, and the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control has “scaled up its capacity to ensure that multiple batches can be tested simultaneously, and that this can be done as quickly as possible, without compromising quality and safety”4. Obviously panicked, Morrison, on January 7, has stated that the vaccine will likely be available to Australians in late February rather than early March, and there is supposedly a ‘plan’ to vaccinate four million Australians by the end of March.5

When the timeline was stated to be for vaccinations to start in March, cartoonist John Kudelka tweeted: “My personal theory is that we’re waiting till March to start rolling out the vaccine so the government can properly plan how to completely balls it up.”6 Quite possibly; but I don’t think they need that amount of time to ‘balls it up’.

Unlike many, many other countries, including the US and UK, Australia has opted (at least until the pressure was put on Morrison), against granting ‘emergency approval’ of any vaccines. Hunt said that the government “will continue to review the medical advice. In the same way that advice has allowed us to bring forward the time from the first half of the year to late March, and now early March, we will be guided by the medical advice. Not to do so would be utterly irresponsible and would risk the health of Australians.”4  Other countries don’t seem to see it that way; they seem to believe that Covid-19 is a bigger risk to the health of their citizens. In addition, indications are that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective (at 70%) than the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine (~95%), although this is yet to be confirmed7. It makes you wonder why Morrison ‘signed up’ for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. A cynic might assume this was because it was very much cheaper than the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, and nothing is too cheap for Australians.

Given the outbreaks in New South Wales and now Victoria, and the risk inherent in having thousands of people corralled together at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the third test, we can only hope that this refusal to grant emergency approval does not turn out to be a disaster; a disaster measured in corpses.



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