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People visit a mass vaccination centre to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in Melbourne on April 21, 2021. Picture: LUIS ASCUI / POOL / AFP.

Vaccination rollout could take four years: expert

An infectious diseases expert is warning it could take almost four years to fully vaccinate 75 per cent of the population if Australia’s rollout does not speed up.

Dr Sanjaya Senanayake is calling on health officials to improve vaccination rates, which took a tumble this month after new health advice no longer recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 50.

At least 1.7 million COVID-19 doses have been administered so far, with 67,000 jabs in arms in the 24 hours to Tuesday April 20.

But Dr Senanayake said Australia’s handling of the rollout was “disappointing”.

“We really have to get it right because at this rate it’s going to be just under four years before 75 per cent of the population gets two doses of vaccine,” he told ABC Breakfast.

“It is interesting that the countries that have performed relatively poorly with regard to controlling COVID, so the US, the UK, Israel, are doing really well with their vaccine rollout.

“Where conversely, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, who have controlled COVID very well, have now vaccinated sort of less than 3 per cent of their population.

“We really need to try and improve this.”

With the news of three new mass vaccination hubs opening in Victoria and jabs soon to be available for people aged over 50 who can have the domestic-manufactured dose, Senanayake believes we could catch up .

“If we can … maximise the way they deliver vaccines with these mass vaccination hubs, I think we can do very well,” Senanayake said.

The federal government this month announced it had doubled the number of contracted Pfizer vaccines to 40 million, with half expected to arrive between October and December.

This is also when the yet-to-be-approved Novavax vaccine is due to come online.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said authorities were not taking a “slow and steady” approach.

“As quickly as we can, commensurate on safety, and focusing on the key transmission risk,” Mr Hunt told ABC RN.

Concerns have also been raised about the number of vaccines administered to people in the aged care and disability sectors, which were meant to be prioritised.

Health officials were recently grilled about the national vaccine stockpile and number of jabs administered so far.

But Mr Hunt rejected the idea that 2.7 million of the 4.3 million COVID-19 vaccines that had arrived in Australia were missing.

He said 1.7 million doses had been administered out of 2.4 million available for those weeks.

“For this week, another 600,000 has been made available, and then for next week there is another 600,000 that is in the process of being distributed,” Mr Hunt said.

“Then we have contingency that makes up the balance.”

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud also defended the government’s handling of the national rollout, instead pointing the finger at the EU for holding back the delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia.

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