Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he won’t set a new target date for all Australians to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine dose, as health concerns about the AstraZeneca Plc shot and European export restrictions delay the rollout.
While the government wants to see first doses administered “before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,” Morrison said in a Facebook post on Sunday. Still, he said Australia’s rollout was ahead of some nations including Japan, France and Canada.
About 1.2 million people in the nation of 25.8 million have received a first dose. The main opposition Labor party says that falls some 3 million short of the promised timeline, and has criticized the government for not securing more deals with pharmaceutical producers. The government had pledged that all Australians would receive a first dose by October.
“This is a race, both in health terms and in economic terms,” Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said in a television interview on Sunday. “This needs to happen quicker, it needs to happen more effectively, because the strength of our economic recovery is inextricably linked to the speed and effectiveness of this vaccine rollout.”
The government says it will have access to 170 million doses from deals with AstraZeneca, Pfizer Inc. and Novavax, as well as through the Covax facility. Locally made AstraZeneca jabs form the backbone of Australia’s vaccination effort, and the government has said it is not banking on receiving 3.1 million outstanding doses on order from Europe due to the bloc’s tightened export rules.
Australia last week said it is guiding against giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under the age of 50 following warnings of a link to a rare type of blood clot by the European Medicines Agency.
Australia has recorded fewer than 30,000 cases of Covid-19, after closing its international border to non-residents, introducing hotel quarantine for returned travelers, and through rigorous testing and contact tracing.
The border closure has smashed the tourism industry and education sector, which relies heavily on international students, and the economic recovery is being buffeted by snap localized lockdowns when the virus escapes from hotel quarantine into the community.