Spins and needles
The PM wants us to take responsibility for the vaccination choices he has left us with
It’s clear that Scott Morrison is worried about the polls and recent negative press, with the PM appearing at his second press conference in as many days, this one focused on Taking Responsibility – but not just for himself. In what were plainly some heavily workshopped opening lines, Morrison gave something of the apology that had been asked of him yesterday, telling reporters he was “sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year” (a line with more than a whiff of “I’m sorry that happened to you”). “Of course I am,” he added, as if he hadn’t spent yesterday dodging that very word. “I take responsibility for the things that haven’t gone as well as we have liked, and I take responsibility for the things that have worked as well,” he said, before going on to tell us just how well things were working, with 10.6 million vaccine doses having now been administered*. But after reluctantly, carefully taking some partial responsibility, Morrison declared it was time for us to take some too. The PM continued his latest push to boost lagging AstraZeneca take-up, announcing that pharmacies would soon be able to provide AstraZeneca to anyone who wanted it, with indemnity. But when asked about where he now stood on the ATAGI advice, after days of blaming and questioning it, Morrison put it back on the Australian people. “People can make their own decisions,” he said. “We’re all responsible for our own health.” When asked about reports a man in his forties who recently died from an AstraZeneca-related blood clot wasn’t fully informed about symptoms to watch for, and whether the PM took any responsibility for that, Morrison appeared to put it back on the man: “People make their own decisions about their own health and their own bodies.” After leaving many of us with only one choice of vaccine at present, and doing more than his fair share to muddy the waters around that vaccine, Morrison wants us to step up and take responsibility, sign the waiver and get that jab – and it will be our responsibility if something goes wrong.
The Morrison government’s attitude to AstraZeneca has shifted dramatically over the past month, ever since the prime minister came forward in a late June press conference to change its eligibility, seemingly contradicting the ATAGI advice he had previously promoted. Over the past few days, Morrison has found himself at loggerheads with ATAGI, as he continues to blame the advisory group’s cautious advice for the slow pace of the vaccine rollout, and the fact that many older Australians are now “waiting for Pfizer”, even though it was Morrison himself who chose to communicate that advice in such a dramatic fashion. (And never mind the fact it is also the Morrison government that failed to secure enough variety of vaccines in case health advice changed.) That conflict continued today, with Morrison telling 4BC Radio Brisbane that he had “no doubt” Australia would be in a better position if the body had not issued its AstraZeneca warning, while encouraging Queenslanders to come forward and get the vaccine now. His recent comments about “appealing” to ATAGI to change its advice have earned him rebukes from many corners, including from Professor Julie Leask, who said it’s important that ATAGI’s advice remains independent, and from the Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, who said the federal government needed to be engaging constructively with ATAGI, not blaming it for doing its job.
Morrison’s naked attempts to push back against the ATAGI advice – which he was more than happy to go along with back when the rollout was “not a race” – are frustrating and disconcerting. But so too were his repeated attempts today to push the “responsibility” for this problem onto the people of Australia. The situation has of course changed recently, just as many people predicted it would: now that COVID-19 is again circulating in the community, it increases the urgency of getting jabs in arms. (Journalists asked Morrison about the fact the advice was so dependent on a zero-COVID environment when he first announced the changed ATAGI advice.) But instead of taking real responsibility for the fact that we’re now in this desperate situation, with not enough Pfizer and too much AstraZeneca, Morrison is putting the onus on us, even though those of us under 40 are still not eligible for the “preferred” vaccine. (The same goes for many over-40s, in a practical sense, with still such limited Pfizer availability.) Morrison needs us to get vaccinated, not just to protect ourselves but to save his own skin. But now we’re supposed to be the ones responsible for that decision to take the only option available?
The risks associated with AstraZeneca are absolutely minuscule, and many of those under the age of 60 are more than happy to take such risks for the good of the community. (Many people, myself included, were pleased by the news that under-60s could now access AstraZeneca, even if they were perplexed by Morrison’s bizarre announcement of it.) But it is outrageous that Scott Morrison is washing his hands of those risks, risks he has placed upon us by his own failure to order a wide enough variety of vaccines for people under 40 to dream of getting vaccinated with anything other than AstraZeneca any time soon. A small number of people may, in fact, die from taking AstraZeneca, because they “took responsibility” and came forward and got the one vaccine on offer to them. And that will be on the PM who left them with no real choice.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 10.6 million Australians had received at least one vaccine dose. In fact, 10.6 million is the total number of doses administered at present, including second doses.
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It’s clear that Scott Morrison is worried about the polls and recent negative press, with the PM appearing at his second press conference in as many days, this one focused on Taking Responsibility – but not just for himself. In what were plainly some heavily workshopped opening lines, Morrison gave something of the apology that had been asked of him yesterday, telling reporters he was “sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year” (a line with more than a whiff of “I’m sorry that happened to you”). “Of course I am,” he added, as if he hadn’t spent yesterday dodging that very word. “I take responsibility for the things that haven’t gone as well as we...
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