Thursday, April 1, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

April fools
Why did the government miss its vaccination target by so much?

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via Sunrise

Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via Sunrise

Brisbane’s snap lockdown has come to an end, but the controversy surrounding the latest outbreak and the severely delayed vaccine rollout has not. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk lifted the lockdown at midday, five hours early, after announcing just one new case of community transmission, saying that “Easter is good to go”. (Easter may be, but Bluesfest is not, following its last-minute cancellation; more Byron Bay hotspots were added today.) NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian remained furious with her federal counterparts, saying that there had been “misleading information provided by the Commonwealth”, after the government and News Corp attempted to blame the states for delays, releasing figures suggesting they were stockpiling doses. Health Minister Greg Hunt – whose media team is reportedly refusing to answer calls from ABC Melbourne’s Virginia Trioli – went on Sunrise, The Today Show and Sky News instead, and blamed the media for reporting what his government had leaked. “The analysis was done by a particular journalist and that was their work,” he told Seven. “Our view is that the states are all doing a good job.” Hunt also used the media appearances to spruik the rollout’s progress, characterising where things are at now as “an extraordinary outcome”. So why, then, is Australia’s rollout – ranked 94th in the world – so behind schedule? 

In perhaps the greatest April Fools’ Day joke thus far, the Department of Health insisted that the country is “not behind in its vaccine rollout”. Back in January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the goal was to have 4 million vaccinated by the end of March. “We hoped, by the end of February, end of March, I should say, to have reached some 4 million population,” he said, with his special knack for misremembering dates. For weeks, media outlets have been tracking the vaccine numbers, measuring just how far off-track for that target we are. As of this morning, Australia had administered 670,000 doses, leaving us 3.3 million short of that initial target. To be fair, the end of March goal was later amended, but Guardian Australia’s tracker still puts us 1.1 million short of where we need to be to reach the revised goal.

As Liam Mannix reports in the Nine papers, there’s a reasonably simple explanation. Australia is one the world’s leaders in vaccine purchases per capita, with five doses for every man, woman and child. But while our Pfizer doses have been arriving without issue, the 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses Australia expected to receive from Europe before we got our local production up and running (the doses upon which our target was based) have not all arrived – partly because of AstraZeneca struggling to meet its own contracts, and partly due to European nations blocking exports. As of March 5, Australia had only received 735,000 of the 3.8 million doses it expected; this morning, Hunt said that 3.1 million doses still had not arrived.

There have also been a number of embarrassing, needless and criminally stupid logistical failings by the federal government – the most recent being its tendency to “blindside” states with unexpected and irregular bulk deliveries – making it unlikely that the government’s targets would be on track even if it had received its order in full. But nevertheless a great deal of the shortfall is easily explained by something that is out of its hands: international supply. 

Which makes it all the more staggering, then, that the federal government yesterday chose to blame states for not having administered all their doses. On Sunrise this morning, Hunt went back to blaming the supply chain, noting that “global supply challenges” were responsible for the slow rollout, while Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid defended the rollout on Today, saying the “biggest barrier to vaccine rollout has been our supply”. Hunt suggested this morning that we were about to see things “dramatically scale-up” now that AstraZeneca is being produced locally.

It’s clear the states have not administered all their doses, whether or not that’s because – as some claim – they are hanging onto stock for second doses, not trusting when they are going to receive the next round from the federal government (could you blame them?). But they haven’t held onto 3.3 million of them, which makes the federal government’s blame-shifting attack all the more pointless, leaving premiers and health ministers fuming – even the ones within its own party. As NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard noted, the state has administered 100,000 of the 300,000 doses it has been tasked with in the current phase, while the federal government has only administered 50,000 of the 5.5 million they are responsible for. “I think the figures speak for themselves,” he said smugly. The true fools of the day are those in the federal government who chose to go after the still extremely popular state governments. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, as the saying goes. And seriously don’t bite the hands that’ve administered most of your vaccines.

“The wrong parties are being prosecuted.”

Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery has slammed the prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery and Witness K, saying Commonwealth prosecutors were wrong to deem the case in the public interest.

“There is no evidence to indicate a criminal offence.”

A Queensland Police spokesperson says detectives investigating allegations against disgraced Bowman MP Andrew Laming – accused of taking photos of a Brisbane woman while she was bent over – have determined there is no evidence to indicate a criminal offence. Even though there were witnesses.

The story behind Australia’s mouse plague
After suffering through record-breaking bushfires, a pandemic and floods, big parts of Australia now have a new problem: a plague of mice. Today, the CSIRO’s Steve Henry on the origins of the mouse plague, the impact it’s having and when it might finally end.

The rate at which national house prices rose in March – the fastest pace in 32 years – with prices in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Canberra and Brisbane all at record highs.

“Liberal senator Andrew Bragg wants the Morrison government to redeploy an emergency scheme introduced at the height of pandemic letting workers withdraw $20,000 from their superannuation for other purposes such as first home deposits.”

Bragg will use a speech tonight to push for the government’s superannuation early access scheme to be expanded, saying it “helped Australians improve their personal balance sheets” and “drove engagement with super”. Those are two ways to describe people draining their retirement funds and driving up house prices.

The list

“Maguire developed the novel during her tenure as the 2018–2019 writer-in-residence at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, which has a focus on chronic lifestyle diseases. The experience of the residency – working alongside researchers, educators and clinicians from the centre – has clearly impacted the novel, which shows a depth of understanding and empathy towards Nic and her family that goes way beyond mainstream representations of hoarders as abject individuals lacking self-control. Love Objects demonstrates the best relationship between storytelling and science, in which each informs the other to foster genuine understanding and connection.”

“‘Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once,’ says archaeologist and scholar Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), by way of fatherly advice, to his 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet), in Luca Guadagnino’s ravishing miniature Call Me by Your Name. ‘To make yourself feel nothing, so as not to feel anything – what a waste.’ In Guadagnino’s sun-drenched adaptation of André Acimen’s 2007 novel of sexual awakening, this exploration of feeling – from the purely sensual and tactile to the emotionally heightened and overwrought – is embedded into the musculature of every frame and every scene.”

“In my work as a GP in the inner city, I am much more likely to counsel a patient about the side effects of the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine than I am to encounter an actual case of measles. To date, I have never seen a patient with diphtheria or tetanus or rubella. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon. My father attributes his soft voice to a particularly severe attack of childhood pertussis, or whooping cough. My mother recounts her own debilitating bout of measles during her paediatric rotation to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. But such is the efficacy of vaccines – within a generation, they can suppress microbe numbers to such low levels that people like me can remain blissfully unaware of the diseases they have prevented. The danger, of course, is that we forget.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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