Greg Hunt has said Australia should have supply of 2m doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine each week from the start of October, lifting hopes that all who want to get the jab could do so by Christmas.
With 3.5m vaccinations – of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – administered as of 23 May, the government has been under increasing pressure over the pace of the rollout, amid a shortage of vaccines and concerns about vaccine hesitancy among some people.
In an interview with Nine Newspapers published on Sunday, the health minister said the government expected 4.5m Pfizer doses to arrive by the end of June. This would increase to 7m in the third and fourth quarters of the year.
Nine quoted Hunt as saying the Pfizer vaccines would arrive at consistent levels, which meant “an available pool of 2m doses [a week] for 13 weeks in the final quarter of 2021”.
However, Nine said Hunt had cautioned that the timeline was subject to this consistent supply. Guardian Australia has approached his office for comment.
The health minister was criticised this week after he suggested the increasing supply meant there would be “enough mRNA vaccines for every Australian”, prompting him to later backtrack and insist people should get the jab as quickly as possible.
It followed the government’s decision to recommend the Pfizer jab over AstraZeneca for people under 50, due to very rare instances of blood clotting linked to the later.
Overall, the government has said it has secured 40m Pfizer doses, including the extra 20m announced last month.
With vaccine supply currently dominated by AstraZeneca, Guardian Australia reported this week that more than 1.5m Covid-19 doses were sitting in clinics across the country. A nurse at a clinic in Victoria told Guardian Australia she had administered only one jab throughout an entire eight-hour shift.
At the same time, some millennials, who are not currently included in the rollout, have been attending vaccine hubs to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, due to lower than expected demand among over 50s. These vaccines would otherwise have been spoiled.
On Sunday, public health and advertising experts told Guardian Australia the government should consider offering lottery tickets and cash as incentives.
Stephen Duckett, the health program director at the Grattan Institute, told ABC News Breakfast on Sunday the government needed to get the “vaccine program back on track”.
“You know, one of the reasons that a number of people said that they weren’t going to get a vaccine is because they said that the vaccines are just not available,” he said.
“We’ve got to address that first and then say ‘the vaccine is here, the vaccine is ready and now you come and get it’.”
While the government has until now been tightlipped about how many Pfizer doses Australia would get each week, Guardian Australia reported last month the few details Hunt had provided pointed to a rate of about 2.15m by the final quarter of 2021.
Coalition considers two Covid tests for returning travellers
Meanwhile, Hunt also told News Corp on Sunday the government may consider introducing a second Covid-19 test for return travellers from countries except New Zealand.
People returning from India this month were required to take an antigen test before boarding, on top of an earlier PCR test. Hunt said the rate of infected arrivals at the Howard Springs quarantine facility dropped from 13% to 1% as a result.
It was “something we could consider for international flights to increase the number of people”, he told News Corp.
The use of a second test saw 46 people who tested positive barred from taking the first repatriation flights from India, though questions were raised about test accuracy.
A second repatriation flight carrying 165 people landed in Darwin from New Dehli on Sunday morning.
They will join about 80 people at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory who arrived on last week’s flight.
The department of foreign affairs has said those who were unable to board the first flight because they tested positive to Covid were prioritised for the most recent one.
About 1,000 people considered vulnerable will be prioritised for a further eight flights scheduled by 4 June, it says.
There are about 11,000 Australians in India who have told the federal government they would like to return home.
India’s second wave of the coronavirus has claimed the lives of three Australians who were caught up in the crisis.
The Australian government was criticised for briefly threatening those who sought to return from India with fines or jail time, before it resumed repatriation flights last week.
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