The Morrison government wants all Australians vaccinated by the end of the year, but is warning there remain “a lot of unknowns” that could further derail the troubled rollout.
After announcing a major shift in the government’s vaccine program last week following updated health advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the government said its initial October target would not be realised.
However, the trade minister, Dan Tehan, said on Sunday that the government was hopeful that all Australians could receive at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year.
“That is definitely the aim, that is the goal we have set: trying to have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year,” Tehan told Sky News.
“[But] when you are dealing with a pandemic, there is a lot of unknowns and you have just got to make sure you set your goals and are prepared to adjust those as things occur.”
Health officials have recommended people aged under 50 be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine because of the extremely rare chance of blood clot side-effects, saying the Pfizer mRNA vaccine is “preferred” for this age cohort.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the change would require a recalibration of the vaccine timetable but refused to provide a guarantee that all Australians would be offered a jab by Christmas.
Tehan also revealed he will be travelling to Europe to discuss vaccine supply deals, with meetings scheduled with officials from the European Union, France, Germany and the World Trade Organisation.
Australia and the European Commission engaged in a diplomatic spat last week over vaccine exports from Europe, which have been stymied by the European Union’s export controls.
“I will also be meeting the director general of the World Trade Organisation to talk about what we can do to ensure supply of the vaccine, not only for Australia, but globally,” Tehan said.
“Now it’s just a matter of making sure that we get all the contracts honoured, and then we make sure that we can distribute the vaccines right across the nation.”
The shadow health minister, Mark Butler, accused the government of being too reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying the “difficult” situation was one of the government’s own making.
“Australia was already way behind schedule in the vaccine rollout, not in the top 100 nations in the world and a bad situation has been made far worse by these unforeseen events around the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Butler also said the government needed to ensure all Australians had a dose by Christmas, with the opening up of the economy dependent on it.
“We really can’t have a situation where vaccines are rolling out into next year which seems to be the prime minister’s thinking,” Butler told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“This is not just a question of the strength of our economic recovery – it’s also a question about the health of our population.”
Following the changed advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the government announced it had secured an extra 20m doses of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for the last quarter of the year.
This comes on top of 20m previously contracted Pfizer vaccine doses which the health minister, Greg Hunt, has said will begin ramping up through distribution networks this month.
Hunt said Pfizer had indicated “that we will see an expansion in April”, up from the current figures of “approximately 130,000-plus a week”. He also expected to see “quite a significant expansion in May” and then “a near-doubling” in July.