Australians finally get a vaccine timeline target they can trust: Experts

Preparations are being made for the booster program as COVID vaccinations edge toward 80 per cent.

Preparations are being made for the booster program as COVID vaccinations edge toward 80 per cent. Photo: Getty

Medical experts say Australia might finally have a coronavirus vaccine rollout promise it can trust: That all under-40s will have access to the jab of their choice by September.

The daring claim comes as independent data analysis shows Australia’s COVID vaccine supply issues will not be over until November.

Some of the nation’s top epidemiologists have welcomed news that Australia’s rollout is about to ramp up a notch – but warn vaccinating under-40s will not be enough to move into phase two of the government’s four-point plan for opening up.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant General John Frewen reiterated younger Australians should officially become eligible for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines between September and October.

He said they should be able to choose which vaccine they receive. Caveat: if supplies permit.

“When we have adequate supplies, I think that’s a logical step,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.

Under-40s kept waiting in confusing rollout

The rollout has been dogged by missed targets, which have been stalled, moved or dropped completely.

At the start of the year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March.

In reality, we barely clocked one million.

Scott Morrison was the second Australian to get vaccinated, receiving his first Pfizer jab in February. Photo: AAP

In April, the federal government abandoned the second target to vaccinate all Australians by October, citing supply concerns. They have avoided setting any firm timelines since.

The vague commitments have bred confusion.

On the weekend Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said under-40s would be able to get the vaccine “in the months to come”, but could not say when exactly.

While it’s known that we have doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax on order, due to arrive later this year, it’s still unconfirmed when exactly they will arrive – and how many will arrive at which time.

Independent analysis from software data engineer and creator of COVID-19 Near Me Ken Tsang said Australia’s supply issues will not be over until November.

“There should be enough doses for 80 per cent of the population by November (but) when we get to the point of injecting them into people’s arms is another thing,” Mr Tsang told The New Daily. 

But by the end of November, there won’t be a supply issue.”

By October the rollout infrastructure will “need to be massively ramped up and be able to administer two to three million doses a week to keep up with supply,” he said.

Confidence – finally

On Friday Lieutenant General Frewen said he was “very confident” every Australian who wanted to receive a vaccine this year would be able to.

Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy said the association had been reassured the government had a “clearer timeline for Pfizer” and could now say with greater confidence when certain groups will access the vaccine.

“They’ve got a better picture of what’s coming. They have better planning timelines,” Dr Moy said.

“I think there’s a really good chance we’ll have a good push on.”

COVID vaccines for under-40s not enough

Professor Mike Toole, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute, said vaccinating under-40s was a good step, but would not be enough for Australia to move forward in the four-stage plan.

“The under-40s will help, but it won’t get us over the line,” Professor Toole said.

“It will reduce the likelihood of large outbreaks, but it won’t get us across the line in terms of herd immunity. We won’t be able to move into phase two.”

Young people vaccine Bali

Bali began vaccinating its 12 to 17-year-olds this week, in a bid to reach herd immunity quicker. Photo: Getty

After the under-40s there are two key groups that need to be targeted: The under-16s, if safe to do so, and those who are vaccine hesitant, he said.

“The 14 per cent of adults who are hesitant are critical,” Professor Toole said.

“We can change their minds with positive communication around how it will keep you and your loved ones out of ICU. That’s the message that should be out there.”

He called for a broader campaign to get people on board as the supply rolls in.

“It’s time for a campaign to prime people,” he said.

“People aren’t going to change their minds without it.”

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