Bill Clinton certainly had a feel for what ‘worked’ in getting himself elected, and then re-elected. He knew that the electorate had one major concern, and all the other matters were just background noise. Cue Scott Morrison and his Government. The vaccine rollout, period. Fix that, and you are home. No more lockdowns, no more businesses going broke, no more daily press conferences, obsessively watching numbers of infections.
How hard could it be?
Step 1. Buy the product. It had never been done before, but the scientists really came through. A handful of vaccines, produced in record time. Years ahead of expectations. Most of the testing was already done, and Australia is a wealthy nation, and the people were up for spending whatever it cost. There was even talk of sharing it around, with our nearest neighbours in the Pacific and New Guinea, and even Indonesia should be assisted.
But then Australia acted like a classic beginner. Firstly, we relied on a Government which classically outsources every function of governing that it can. We engaged with one supplier, AstraZeneca. Then we rejected, or passed on, a limited offer from Pfizer. Next we backed the University of Queensland effort, which proved unsuccessful.
When the first shipment arrived from Pfizer we had the cringe-worthy spectacle of the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, stating “the eagle has landed”, in relation to 142,000 doses. Much was made of the work being done in the background, but it was obvious from the beginning that the less-fancied AstraZenaca would be the workhorse of the rollout.
The original target was that all Australians would be vaccinated by October. Then the target moved to the end of 2021, then we abandoned all targets. Last week the Prime Minister spoke of horizons, which can mean what you want them to mean. As can his messaging, which he changes regularly, in response to the news cycle.
CSL was then licensed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the AstraZeneca vaccine had some teething problems. It was found that it caused an extremely rare blood clotting disorder. At this date only two persons in Australia have died as a result of the disorder, so the benefits of using the vaccine far outweighed the risk.
For a Government often accused of excessive secrecy, it is not clear why they highlighted the risk of the rare disorder, with late night televised announcements causing an instant spike in vaccine hesitancy. The Pfizer quickly became the vaccine of choice, and we were then told that the bulk of the Pfizer vaccine would not arrive until October.
The next step in this incredible journey was when the Government advised us that the vaccine could only be safely used by those over 60. The very next night Scott Morrison seemed to advise that anyone under 60 could go and speak to their GP, and get the jab if they were prepared to take the risk.
In another twist to this sorry tale, we appear to hold more AstraZeneca vaccine than we can use, and very limited Pfizer. So we have all our eggs in the one basket, at least until October. Three long months from now.
Somewhere along this tortuous timeline the Prime Minister, who seems to have a fetish for uniforms, appointed a Lieutenant-General, John Frewen, to handle the logistics of the rollout. If we were serious about logistics, we would recruit the CEO of a transport company. He seems to be a handy fall-guy, should the rollout continue to founder.
In a desperate scramble to remedy this sorry mess we have apparently secured some alternative supplies, but they do not arrive until sometime soon, we hope. So that explains the much repeated refrain, “this is not a race”. If it was, we have already lost.
Step 2. Distribution of the vaccine. For good reasons the Government divided the population into categories, or phases, of urgency. Aged Care residents were placed into Phase 1a, as were workers in the industry. Four months into the rollout only one third of the workers have been vaccinated. General Frewen discovered yesterday that, with the benefit of hindsight, they should have been vaccinated at their work-places.
There is no need for hindsight. Blind Freddie could tell the General that if you have a team of nurses visiting a nursing home, it is beyond simple to vaccinate the workers at the same time. Like they have been doing for years, with the flu vaccine.
But the Government, in its wisdom, decided it was too risky to expose the workers to the after-effects of the shot, on the same day they vaccinated the elderly residents. But it was not at all risky to allow unvaccinated staff to provide care, to the same vulnerable residents.
Anyway, most of the workers missed out. Now we have to rely on them taking time off work, to go and have their Phase 1a first shot, and then we needed legislation to cover them for lost wages. We will probably then need them to find their own second doses, with the ensuing running around.
I am not making this up. The next step in the failed rollout is to have the Treasurer ask the business community for help. Like they do with their annual flu vaccinations. It took the treasurer 18 months to discover that businesses routinely facilitate such health measures, for reasons of business efficiency. It means your staff don’t have to take time off work to get the shot, and the business doesn’t have to fund their time off if they catch the flu.
Sometimes the tried and trusted way is the best. The main problem with this rollout is the shortage of supply. So the General spoke of conducting scenario testing, which I presume means war-gaming. Instead, why not try picking up the telephone and buying some more vaccines, from wherever you can. The people of Sydney will thank you, and so will the rest of us. It might even save us from engaging with the Premiers every morning, on the TV.