State and territory leaders have warned Scott Morrison they will demand more information on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout at national cabinet meetings, which will plan for mass vaccination centres by mid-year.
On Wednesday, the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, thanked Morrison for acknowledging the rollout needs a greater sense of urgency but warned more transparency would be a condition of more frequent national cabinet meetings.
Both Berejiklian and the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, pointedly noted that what states need are more vaccine doses, and that the commonwealth is solely responsible for vaccine supply.
Australias vaccine rollout will be overhauled after an advisory was slapped on the AstraZeneca vaccine, warning people under 50 it may cause extremely rare but potentially deadly blood clots.
At a press conference in Perth, Morrison announced that given Australia has locally produced supply of AstraZeneca vaccines, the rollout will now focus on the vast number of people aged over 50 for whom it is still deemed appropriate.
The federal government has secured 20m extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but an estimated 70% of Australias total 40m dose order will arrive between October and December.
We will have a substantial number of vaccines in the fourth quarter of this year, Morrison told reporters.
We would like this done before the end of the year but that will only be possible if we can ensure mass vaccination programs [are] in place that can do that in that final quarter.
Prior to that, we will have AstraZeneca vaccines and we believe we might be able to ramp up the pace of vaccination for those aged between 50 and 70.
Morrison said he had already discussed with one premier how mass vaccination could be an option earlier, say in June or July for those over 50.
Morrison said that was the reason he had decided to convene national cabinet twice a week, to ensure we can get systems in place, to understand the risks associated with that, what resourcing is required and to be able to direct those programs.
Health ministers will meet on Thursday before the first twice-a-week national cabinet meeting on Monday.
Earlier, Palaszczuk said she was happy to meet as often as theres a need for national cabinet to meet.
I wouldve anticipated that wed need to meet more often as we got in more supply, she told reporters in Brisbane. But Im happy to go along with whatever the prime minister requests.
Palaszczuk said the real crunch in ramping up the vaccine rollout will come when supply increases. The federal government is responsible for the supply. Theyve been very up front about that.
Berejikilian told reporters in the Upper Hunter the NSW government had advocated for mass vaccination centres because Australia cannot afford to be left behind in the rollout and higher vaccination rates would grant greater freedom.
Were approaching this with an enormous sense of urgency I am relieved that there does now seem to be a sense of urgency, but I do urge the federal government to share information with us so we can do our bit, she said.
Berejiklian said more information has got to be a condition of meeting more frequently and I think the prime minister is cognisant of that.
[Morrison] understands you cant keep states in the dark. You have to keep states as informed as you are, she said.
Berejiklian said the NSW government is ready to go with ramping up the rollout but we just need the doses. And as you know, the federal government is responsible for getting us the doses.
The Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, told Guardian Australia his government will put forward practical proposals to the commonwealth to expedite the national vaccine rollout.
We look forward to an improved flow of information from the commonwealth to achieve this worthy national goal, he said.
On Monday the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, told ABCs 7.30 the federal government has shared a 12-week plan which every state has had for some weeks now.
Doses have been delivered against that plan in the quantities that have been set out. That plan will again be updated, he said.
On Tuesday, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the independent federal MP Helen Haines separately wrote to Morrison urging the federal government to expedite the rollout, and noting that aged and disability care workers in phase 1A of the rollout had not all been vaccinated.
In fact, Australias biggest private aged care provider, Bupa, said the government gave it no plan for the vaccination of its aged care workforce prior to last weeks AstraZeneca announcement. It has now been told it will be given an updated plan in the near future.
On Wednesday, the ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, welcomed the federal governments apparent desire to speed up the rollout:
Yesterday we wrote to the PM regarding our serious concerns regarding the vaccine rollout. Aged care & disability workers have not been vaccinated. We want:- urgency- transparency – the States to be asked to assist Looks like Morrison is moving on two of these.
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) April 13, 2021
The latest Guardian Essential poll indicated Australians are frustrated with the slow pace of the rollout. The new poll showed voter approval of the governments handling of the pandemic dropped by eight points in a month.
More than half of the voters in the Guardian Essential poll sample think the Coalition needs to step up and take more responsibility for ensuring Australians are vaccinated against Covid-19 as quickly as possible.
Voters were asked to identify which tier of government or what factors were most responsible for problems with the vaccination rollout from a list including Canberra, the state governments, international supply chain problems and unavoidable production delays.
Canberra topped that list, with 42% of the sample identifying the Morrison government. Problems with supply chains and production were next (24% and 18%). Only 7% of the sample thought the states were responsible.