Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is “sorry” for the challenges his government had with rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine earlier in the year.
“I’m certainly sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year. Of course I am,” Mr Morrison said.
Yesterday, Mr Morrison acknowledged the challenges with the rollout program, saying it was two months behind schedule, but resisted apologising when asked to on FM radio.
The Prime Minister faced growing pressure to acknowledge failures in the program after more than half the country entered lockdown following several outbreaks of the Delta strain of COVID-19.
New vaccination record as more pharmacies to come online
Mr Morrison says the vaccination program has hit its stride, with 1 million vaccinations in the last seven days and a record 184,000 doses given yesterday.
“I think I’ve been very clear that as Prime Minister I’m responsible for the vaccination program, and that responsibility includes fixing and dealing with the problems that we’ve had and that is what we have been doing and the vaccination program has turned the corner.”
The Prime Minister said this morning that changed advice from the government’s immunisation advisory group recommending AstraZeneca doses be reserved for people over 60 had caused vaccine hesitancy and delayed the rollout.
Mr Morrison said he had been “constantly appealing” the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to reconsider its advice following the Sydney outbreak.
Today he reaffirmed that he respected the body and its advice, but that it was his job to be critical.
“Of course I challenge the advice that I receive, I ask questions, I drill into it,” Mr Morrison said.
“You would expect me to do that.”
Earlier today, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the Prime Minister’s comments on ATAGI were “unusual”.
“I’ve got nothing but praise and support for what ATAGI’s been doing throughout this whole pandemic and I just thought it was an unnecessary shot at professionals doing their job,” Mr Foley said.
“If there’s a problem — work through it with them, don’t blame them for doing their job.”
Just under 40,000 people younger than 40 have received an AstraZeneca vaccine since the Prime Minister said last month that the dose is available to anyone who wishes to discuss getting it with their doctor.
Early plans for the rollout expected pharmacies to be involved in the first half of they year, but a lack of supplies had delayed that until September.
With Pfizer supplies arriving this week, Mr Morrison said the inclusion of pharmacies was being brought forward to increase accessibility to the vaccine.
“Right now there are 118 community pharmacies currently vaccinating around the country … by the end of this month there will be 470,” he said.
Mr Morrison said in the Sydney local government areas hit hardest by COVID-19, 48 pharmacies were being brought online to deliver AstraZeneca vaccines from next week.
Pharmacies will also be used to administer Moderna vaccines once they arrive in September.
Mr Morrison said the indemnity afforded to doctors to vaccinate people would be extended to pharmacists.