With less than 5 per cent of Australians fully vaccinated against COVID-19, putting us dead last in this race among OECD nations, this country can no longer talk of gold standards on managing the pandemic.
The Coalition Government must take responsibility for the diabolical state of the vaccine rollout, having taken it on as its one key job while palming off almost all other health matters to the states and territories and even ignoring Victoria during its most difficult time.
As we have seen, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is determining each next move on the rollout according to the mood of the day, deciding to act on health advice where it suits his own marketing narrative.
On Monday night, upon announcing that those aged under 40 could now volunteer through GP clinics to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, he did so against expert medical advice and without giving the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners any prior warning.
This morning, Queensland’s Chief Health Minister Dr Jeannette Young (pictured above) told reporters that she does not want those under 40 receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, and some GPs are also telling this cohort to cancel these appointments, according to The Guardian. NSW vaccination hubs will not deliver these vaccines.
Such swift shifts in vaccine announcements and strategy from the PM leave Australians understandably confused and concerned about vaccines.
And it’s leaving Australians stuck on a COVID merry-go-round with no chance of getting off.
We remain cemented in uncertainty as other parts of the world, particularly in the UK and the US, also deal with the Delta variant of COVID-19 but are now able to boast about the lives that have been saved.
In England, public health officials are already stating that vaccines have prevented 7 million people from contracting the virus. Almost half of that population has had a double dose, and around two-thirds have had their first dose. AstraZeneca is a common vaccine hailed as lifesaver in the UK; so much so that its co-creator received a standing ovation at Wimbledon over the weekend.
But back in Australia? There are leadership challenges to deal with. Cabinet changes to manage. Net zero emissions targets to avoid. There are politics to play. And the borders will stay closed until the next election anyway, so who really cares?
This is our health. These are our livelihoods, our businesses, our jobs, our kids’ education, not to mention our ability to socialise, move around and enjoy our lives. And yet again, here we are at the crossroads of another major, national crisis that the Morrison Government is proving utterly incapable of managing.
The vaccination was supposed to be the key to unlocking our hermit nation. The rollout should have been prioritised over party politics and leadership quibbles. It should have been our shot, Team Australia’s shot (as the PM loves to talk about), at returning to some semblance of predictability and ability to plan and find optimism and hope in the future.
But Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt have been making an absolute mockery of this rollout for months: evading questions, blatantly telling lies, moving against medical advice and destroying public trust and faith in the science behind these vaccines.
This government has misfired massively on how and where to direct vaccines, and then failed to redirect and quickly put things on course as needed.
It has failed to even get the necessary public messaging right, with no significant ad campaigns in the works and mixed messages around vaccine safety.
It has made us an embarrassment internationally, a so-called “lucky country” with its water-enabled quarantine zone and conveniently timed warm weather, that was able to avoid the scale of the tragedy of the COVID emergency in other countries — yet squandered the opportunity to use this reprieve to get the country vaccinated. Even despite what was at stake: being able to return to the rest of the world.
This government has also failed miserably on delivering the vaccines we do have available to those who needed it so desperately and immediately. People with disabilities of all ages, especially those in homes. The residents of aged care homes, frontline and emergency staff and staff in aged cares homes — where the vaccine will now be compulsory, but with few plans in place to make this happen.
Early childhood educators, who never got a look in on the priority list, despite being an essential service remaining open during lockdowns. Teachers, hospitality staff, supermarket workers, older Australians, the vast majority who are far away from being double vaccinated. Middle aged Australians who are lucky to have had one shot. Those under 40 who have very little idea on when their turn will come up and now don’t know where to turn on the conflicting advice around AstraZeneca.
Entire industries remain on hold or depleted beyond recognition, like those in entertainment, in business events, those depending on international tourists and students.
Other industries remain on tenterhooks, questioning how to move forward in an era of snap lockdowns and closed borders. Families remain separated. Kids away from parents. Parents away from children. Parents desperate to get their own parents into the country to see their grandchildren, in many cases for the first time. These separation periods could roll on for years.
We have no roadmap out of this, because we have no leadership in place where these key decisions are being made. There’s no one capable of coaching the team.
Morrison once said, famously and conveniently, that the vaccine rollout “is not a race”. But when you’re coming dead last you can’t help but feel a little despondent and start questioning how and why you got there. And when you’re wondering whether your business will survive, how you’ll manage to keep the family fed on a casual wage during the current or next lockdown, or when you’ll see the people you love again, it is most definitely a race.
To be clear, Morrison should not be criticised for changing his position on AstraZeneca. Positions can change, especially when it comes to science and especially in this situation where the data is rapidly coming to hand.
But he should absolutely be criticised for failing to seek medical advice, for his lack of leadership, and his notable disinterest in the vaccine rollout. He must be held to account for playing politics on our health, our happiness and our livelihoods.
He should be called out for taking a side trip from the June G7 Summit to travel through other parts of England on account of exploring his family history, just as he abandoned ‘Team Australia’ during the bushfire crisis. He should be called out for working with a Deputy Prime Minister (regardless of the fact he had no hand in putting him there) who can’t even comply with the most basic of health orders nor role model public health safety behaviour — with Barnaby Joyce fined for failing to wear a mask in Northern NSW.
Scott Morrison, you really fucked this one up. Australia deserved better, and now Australians must never forget.