Scott Morrison will need to focus on getting a large enough workforce to deliver a coronavirus vaccine to millions of Australians before winter hits, top health experts warn.
As the Prime Minister sticks to his late March deadline for beginning the rollout, CSIRO director of health Rob Grenfell and infectious diseases expert Peter Collignon say training and recruiting a vaccine workforce will be key to getting enough Australians jabbed before any winter fourth wave.
Further regulatory checks and vaccine batch checks — including measures to ensure vaccines are kept at the right temperature — will come after the expected TGA approval in January.
Dr Grenfell told The Australian that after the TGA approval, getting a workforce together would be the biggest challenge. “We have never conducted a mass immunisation program of this size in the history of this country,” he said.
“It will be a huge logistic challenge to figure how we administer this vaccine, how we do it safely and as rapidly as possible.
“I suspect the number of staff needed means there will be a targeted approach, starting with healthcare workers and the elderly, and also possibly people in hotel quarantine to break that chain of transmission.”
Professor Collignon said Australia needed time to train vaccination staff and prepare for all other circumstances, but he hoped the rollout would near completion before June.
“We need to train these people properly. Even in Germany, a country very well-versed in vaccines, we are seeing dosage mistakes. We don’t want to make mistakes,” he said.
“There are huge logistic steps we need to take. The US and Europe are rushing because they are in an emergency situation; we can afford to take the steps. I am concerned about winter, and hope we can get most of the population inoculated by then.
“Australia is not in an emergency situation. We shouldn’t be ‘front of the queue’ on an ethical basis and we don’t have to be.”
Emergency vaccine programs in the UK and Europe have faced difficulties. Boris Johnson’s government has inoculated only 900,000 or so people despite the British Prime Minister’s new promise to vaccinate all vulnerable Britons by February.
Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn — rumoured as a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel — has faced attacks over the lack of vaccine supplies he has secured, and French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to speed up jabs with only 350 vaccinated in France.
Mr Morrison on Tuesday pushed back on Labor’s ramped-up demands for a rollout quickly after the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves a vaccine, and said testing of individual batches would take time.
“We shouldn’t cut corners … those processes don’t just end when the TGA approves the vaccine,” he said. “We should let the health officials do their jobs here and do it as swiftly as I know they are doing and as safely as Australians would expect.”