Australia's vaccine rollout plan has undoubtedly been troubled since its inception. With parts of NSW in lockdown for two weeks, the message from premier Gladys Berejiklian is clear - get tested, get vaccinated or stay home. While over 52,000 came forward overnight to get tested, vaccination hesitancy is the big stumbling block for health authorities moving forward.
AstraZeneca in particular has been at the centre of scepticism, having been linked with blood clotting that have resulted in two fatalities in Australia. At its current pace, vaccine rollouts have averaged 766,000 doses per week, with expectations to reach the 40 million needed for full vaccination by April 2022. However, the recent death of a 52-year old woman has engendered a new wave of fear, with average doses dropping to 104,000 in the aftermath of the news. Surveys conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian National University both found worries over the side effects of vaccines and general vaccine safety were limiting factors to increasing vaccination numbers. Of the needlephobic population, 50% attributed their stance to the blood clotting incident and the dubious track record of the AstraZeneca vaccine according to Professor Nicholas Biddle.
Hesitancy isn't the only obstacle confronting health officials. Closed borders and limited outbreaks in Australia have possibly fueled a more carefree outlook on vaccination among Australians. SMH found 21% of respondents felt a lack of urgency to get immunised, reflecting a relatively stress-free experience with the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, with greater NSW entering into another lockdown, this may be the impetus necessary for the complacent to finally receive the jab.
This all comes with a cost. For those who have already received their first doses, many are returning for their second shot. The issue lies with the fence-sitters who have left Australian clinics empty and troubled as to how to deal with the surplus of vaccines still in fridges. With news the AstraZeneca vaccine will be phased out by October, and new recommendations that middle-aged individuals get the Pfizer vaccine instead, there is a real possibility leftover supplies could expire. One solution is to donate these vaccines overseas. In a global environment rife with inequitable vaccine distribution, these doses are vital for poorer countries that are nearing the brink of running out of supplies. Australia is largely on-board with this idea, having committed to donating 20 million doses to their Asia-Pacific neighbours, and joining the global plan to deliver one billion doses to nations urgently requiring help with the pandemic. While the intention behind these initiatives are good, the question remains; how? Logistically, the shipping of these doses are filled with challenges. Camberwell GP Sara Hume notes that "there's not going to be time to get them where they need to be and then time for them to be given". For the time being, more transparency and information regarding vaccines should be communicated to the public to curtail the wave of fear from rising. A step toward expediting vaccine rollouts domestically is certainly a step in the right direction.