Even though the government has doubled its order of Pfizer's vaccine, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has abandoned setting deadlines for vaccine roll-out and admitted for the first time that not all Australians will receive their first dose of coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.
The Australian government announced on Sunday that the 20 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine ordered by the country will arrive in the fourth quarter of 2021, providing enough doses for all Australians to receive at least their first dose before the year's end.
Earlier, Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said that the government's aim was to "try to make all Australians have a dose by the end of the year," but cautioned that "we have to note that we're dealing with a pandemic, things can change."
Later that day, Morrison wrote on Facebook that his government had “not set, and has no intentions to set, any new deadlines for completing first doses.”
“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, given the many uncertainties involved, it is not realistic to set such targets,” Morrison said.
“All we have to do now is get on with the job of producing, distributing, and administering vaccines as safely and effectively as possible.”
Last week, Australia's vaccination program was dealt another setback when the government revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Australia would manufacture locally, was no longer recommended for people under the age of 50 due to unusual blood clots linked to the vaccine. The government then obtained additional doses of Pfizer's vaccine, which is now the recommended vaccine for certain Australians.
After doctors raised concerns that they would have to pay out if their patients suffered problems and sued, the Morrison government acted over the weekend to reassure Australian GPs that they would be indemnified if something went wrong with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Facing reservations from some GPs about litigation threats, Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid urged Australians to speak to their doctors about whether or not to get the “very safe and effective” AstraZeneca vaccine.
Khorshid said, "Please be confident that all licensed doctors are completely covered – your GP is more concerned with your health."
Tehan had previously stated that the government's aim was to "try to make all Australians have a dose by the end of the year," but added that "we have to note that we're dealing with a pandemic, things can change."
Tehan will fly to Europe on Wednesday to try to persuade his German, Belgian, and French counterparts to do whatever they can to boost vaccine development across the continent. Many of the world's Covid-19 vaccines are made in Europe, including by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, but due to export restrictions, it has effectively blocked contracted supplies to countries like Australia.
Tehan told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, "I'll be highlighting the need to increase production and for all of us to be working on that rather than looking to limit exports."
“The first call will be from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, who has been vocal about export restrictions.
“Everything we can do to increase output across the board at this point is becoming increasingly important.”
The government had previously stated that every qualified Australian will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by October, which has now been pushed back by at least three months.
88,564 Australians were vaccinated in the 48 hours leading up to Sunday, taking the total number of vaccinations to 1.16 million, with over 465,000 provided by GPs.
Pfizer's promise to Australia under its deal was to supply 40 million doses in 2021, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt, who added that "it's an unpredictable environment" but that "Pfizer has been delivering to Europe."
Doctors also expressed fears that if their patients developed complications after receiving a vaccine, they will be without legal rights and insurance coverage.
According to Hunt, doctors were compensated by both a government indemnity to the vaccine manufacturer and their own professional protection for other complications if a patient developed blood clots as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
”Our indemnities shield the doctors from the vaccine's side effects,” he said.
People with side effects may follow individual doctors rather than manufacturers, according to medical associations, which Hunt discussed in letters to the American Medical Association's Khorshid and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price on Friday.
He stated that the government is considering an additional indemnity for practitioners and that if current policies "prove inadequate," the government "will take action to ensure the required support for health practitioners."
Hunt expressed his disappointment that 23,596 Australians had been vaccinated in the previous 24 hours.
The addition of 1000 general medical practices to the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which will begin next week, is also an "extraordinary sign of trust," according to the Health Minister.
Mark Butler, an Australian Labor health spokesman, said the Coalition's timetable was too slow and ambiguous, particularly in light of other countries' plans to carry out booster shots for people who have already received their first doses to protect against possible coronavirus variants.
“We can't have a scenario where vaccines are being rolled out into next year, as the Prime Minister seems to believe,” Butler said.