State secrecy on unused vaccines

 

Thousands of Pfizer vaccines that could be in the arms of Australians are instead sitting in freezers, as states agree not to publish how many available jabs they don't use each week.

About 86,000 vaccines were administered nationally in the fortnight to March 7, which is only about half what was allocated to states, territories and the Commonwealth.

The precise number of unused doses - and which jurisdiction is responsible - is unknown, after National Cabinet agreed last week the public would only be informed of successfully delivered jabs.

 

Senior federal government sources told The Daily Telegraph states had "objected strongly" to the release of more transparent data.

As a result the second weekly update released by the federal Health Department did not include unused or wasted jabs from any jurisdiction, including the Commonwealth.

Infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said the lack of transparency was a "mistake" as it risked "decreasing trust" in the rollout.

"There are good reasons why states may not use all their vaccines in a week … but they should be able to stand up and say that," he said.

Prof Collignon said any "stockpiling" must not jeopardise the goal of vaccinating four million vulnerable people by winter.

"If one state isn't getting (their allocation) done, and if another state can give out more … then we should reallocate," he said.

The Pfizer jabs are currently being given to priority health and quarantine workers, and people in aged and disability care. Picture: Mike Burton
The Pfizer jabs are currently being given to priority health and quarantine workers, and people in aged and disability care. Picture: Mike Burton

In the first week NSW gave out 74 per cent of its doses, whereas Victoria gave only about 30 per cent and Queensland a mere 22 per cent.

Some states have argued they need to hold onto jabs for second doses, but Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed in February the rollout had already accounted for this.

"It's been very carefully calibrated to make sure that each week you had first doses and then there's enough when you get to the second doses, to provision for them," he said.

 

A spokeswoman for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was making the "best use of every dose" supplied, and was "on track" to deliver 35,000 vaccines by the end of this week.

A health department spokesman said the "detail of information" in the vaccine update was "agreed by the states and territories".

He said the "level" of detail would be continually assessed as the rollout continued.

Danielle McMullen will be helping deliver COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 1B from the end of March. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Danielle McMullen will be helping deliver COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 1B from the end of March. Picture: Jonathan Ng

As Phase 1A continues, GPs around the country are preparing for 1B, which includes elderly people living at home and all health workers.

Australian Medical Association NSW President Dr Danielle McMullen is one of 4,500 GPs helping with the rollout, but has been told her clinic will only receive 50 doses a week initially.

"Slow and steady progress is better than a big disasters … but many GPs felt blindsided about only getting low numbers in the early rollout," she said.

Dr McMullen said her clinic was identifying most at risk patients to get the first jabs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday (TUE) he was confident every Australian would be vaccinated by October despite the "odd logistics issue".

"That doesn't mean we won't hit some obstacles," he said.

"That's to be expected with a project of this scale."

Originally published as State secrecy on unused vaccines



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