John Moyle brings some much needed clarity to Australia’s bungled vaccine rollout and ScoMo’s serpentine promises.
Most Australians have been both surprised and supportive at the effective manner in which the federal and state governments dealt with the outbreak of novel coronavirus in its early stages.
The failings of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the previous year’s bushfire emergency were almost a distant memory, as Scotty led from the front with constant press conferences and nightly announcements that we were “the world’s best” in dealing with the pandemic.
In the Canberra bubble there was talk of an early election to capitalise on the government’s bump in the polls and the new halo glowing brightly above our prime minister’s head.
But the states, which up until now have done most of the heavy lifting in dealing with the pandemic and its community outbreaks, are now asking difficult questions about the availability of the vaccines which are urgently needed in frontline healthcare.
Even our own NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard – both Liberal Party stalwarts – have piped up with concerns.
Like most of the community, they apparently believed Morrison when he said numerous times in 2020 that Australians would be vaccinated by October 2021.
Now Scotty tells us that he never said that; that what he really meant was that every Australian would have the first jab by October.
By Christmas 2020, the situation between Scotty and the states had deteriorated to the point that he was blaming the states for lack of rollout strategy and delivery logistics.
Four million jabs had been promised by March.
Australia was going to be awash in Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, and doctors and medical centres began to ramp up to do the delivery of the jabs, much as they do each year for the influenza virus.
Except as March rolled around, it was obvious there would be no rollout due to shortages of both vaccines and no clarity on how they were to be delivered by the federal government, which claimed responsibility for distribution.
“Australians will be among the first in the world to receive the Covid-19 vaccine,” Morrison said.
Of the four million jabs promised, only one-third of that number was available in March.
Questions were asked about how Australia got to this low number when we had been told we had deals in place for supplies all over the world.
The answer is that we did not have done deals for much of what was promised, and the cranking up of Melbourne’s CSL lab to produce 50 million jabs was facing problems.
Despite the first death from the virus being reported in China on 11 January, 2020, it was not until the first meeting on 16 August of the little known Covid-19 Vaccines and Treatments for Australia – Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group, which included Brendan Murphy, Paul Kelly, Alan Finkel and Allen Cheng, that the government was advised to sign a deal with AstraZeneca.
Three days later Morrison made the announcement that the deal had been signed.
Except that it hadn’t.
What the government had signed was not a deal, but a letter of intent that had a long way to go before it could deliver any vaccine.
By the time the government had got around to ordering 3.8 million doses, AstraZeneca had other deals in Europe, USA and Britain for 1.1 billion doses.
Australia finally got around to signing deals in September and November, and they would be subject to a premium price of $350 million above the original $1.5 billion.
Things got tighter in December when research on the University of Queensland-CSL V451 Vaccine was halted.
Heading into Christmas, the chorus of “Australia is at the front of the queue” was heard daily, but it was all a tissue of lies, as many parts of the world were already way ahead of us.
What’s more, the entire process was conducted in the dark, as scrutiny of the contract prices, indemnities, prioritisation and distribution was kept even from fellow parliamentarians.
“Australia, how good is it?” Morrison bellowed.
Currently Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Chile and Bhutan lead the world for rollouts, while Australia is ranked at 76 out of 152, comparable with Rwanda.
How good, indeed.
By now the PM was spinning so fast that he could only be seen as a blur nightly on our screens.
Thrown to the wolves of spin and hubris were the hotel quarantine workers, healthcare workers and aged care residents.
By the end of March even the government’s Greek chorus of Hunt, Frydenberg and the hapless Dr Brendan Murphy were trying to let us down slowly by saying deadlines were being pushed back.
Finally, even Morrison had to give up the facade when yesterday (12 April) he dumped any pretence of targets, and posted on Facebook (not at a press conference) that he could not see the rollout of the first doses to all Australians occurring before the end of the year.
He added an additional kicker saying: “It is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.”
With the cost now blowing out by an estimated $4 billion and no delivery schedule in sight, the government is on a hiding to nothing.
It has destroyed all goodwill earned in the early days of the pandemic, and Morrison has shown Australians that he really is the hollow man of spin that we remember from the bushfire crisis.
All prime ministers wish for a crisis in which they can show the electorate they can shine, but for Morrison, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has made sure any light was extinguished long ago.
We are left with a federal government that now formulates policy based in mendacity and the polls.
How good is it, Australia?
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