Australia’s fight against COVID-19 has been regarded as one of the world’s success stories, however a lack of clarity arising from a delay in the vaccine rollout has caused serious unrest among Australians. Last month, the rollout fell 85% short of its own target, a shortfall of about 1.8m vaccine doses (Nicholas & Evershed, 2021). The low cost of the AstraZeneca vaccine, coupled with the ease of transport, was supposedly the driving force of Australia’s seven billion Australian dollar ($5.32bn) vaccine programme (Al Jazeera, 2021), however supply shortages and delivery problems have hampered the rollout. Despite the road to recovery being built around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the rare incidences of blood clots found among those who have received the jab has caused regulators to adopt a more cautious approach and also contributed to the impediment (Al Jazeera, 2021). It is not all doom and gloom, however, as the creation of mass immunisation hubs and investment in local production to speed up the rollout have provided a glimmer of hope to the nation.
Vaccine history for Australia
The vaccine history for Australia dates back to the 1790s. Edward Jenner pioneered the concept of vaccines for Smallpox, which had caused the first ever epidemic in Australia (Lyons & Taylor, 2020). Smallpox was extremely deadly and ripped through the Aboriginal populations, as well as killed almost all of the Gadigal people in Sydney (Lyons & Taylor, 2020). Therefore, by 1804, Australia started importing vaccines for Smallpox from all over Europe, namely from the Pasteur Institute in France, the British Institute of Preventative Medicine in London, and the Behring Institute in Germany (NSW Health Department, 1997, p. 61). Moreover, Australia started producing the vaccine for Smallpox in Sydney by 1847 and in Victoria by 1882. However, Australia remained dependent on imports from other countries for vaccines and had to import the Plague vaccine in the 1880s and 1890s to control the outbreak in Sydney (Lyons &Taylor, 2020). Later, due to shortage of imports during World War I in 1914, Australia finally decided to start a federal institute in Melbourne on the site of the present Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (NSWHD, 1997). It is also said that the Typhoid vaccine was being produced locally in several laboratories around the same time in the early 1900s (NSWHD, 1997).
Current Rollout Issues
Australia has been branded globally as one of the few countries that has successfully returned to a ‘covid-normal’ way of life since the beginning of the pandemic (BBC, 2021). Strict border controls, a hotel quarantine system and harsh lockdowns throughout the past year have meant that Australians are now able to go about their daily life without much thought put towards catching the virus. However, there have been growing concerns and intense backlash at the federal government’s handling of the vaccine rollout throughout the nation. The federal government has responded, blaming overseas shortages and delays contributing to it falling 85% behind its vaccination target of vaccinating the majority of the population by October 2021 (BBC, 2021). Moreover, shortages and delays are not the only thing causing havoc within the vaccination process throughout the country. News of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Australian government’s choice of vaccine, causing blood clot related issues to individuals globally has provoked panic and frustration amongst the public, triggering the government to revoke plans of administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to individuals under the age of 50 and, instead, offering them the Pfizer vaccine (Dalzell et al, 2021). The complications and hindrances throughout the vaccination rollout scheme has left the Australian public with a sour taste in their mouth, especially after Prime Minister Scott Morrison abandoned plans to offer Australians their first dose of the vaccine by October (Dalzell et al, 2021), resulting in a general consensus being reached that “Scott Morrison has bungled this vaccine rollout”, according to Opposition Health Spokesman, Mark Butler. Failure to provide a clear and detailed plan of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout has left many with distrust in the current coalition government.
Pending impacts of the vaccine rollout failure on tourism
Tourism in Australia has always been a driver of growth for the Australian economy, with domestic and international tourism spending together making for a tourism industry worth $152 billion in 2019 and employing 1 in 10 people (Carruthers et al., 2021). With the ongoing pandemic, these figures have taken a major hit due to the closure of both international and state borders and, hence, Australia’s slow start of the vaccine rollout has been questioned. Vaccine rollout failures have meant that the current restrictions on international travel will remain until the end of 2021, rather than easing out over the course of the year (Welch, 2021). This has subsequently had a large negative effect on Australia due to its reliance on foreign students and inbound tourism. As the education, tourism and hospitality industries are dependent on overseas travellers, there would be long-term impacts on the economy of the country (“COVID Impacts Will Continue Even After Vaccination, ABARES Told”, 2021). Furthermore, this would also lead to a drop in migration which would have serious implications for the projected population figures and GDP by the end of the decade (Welch, 2021). As things stand, approximately 800,000 fewer people would visit Australia between 2020 and 2025, as compared to the expectations prior to the pandemic (“COVID Impacts Will Continue Even After Vaccination, ABARES Told”, 2021).
With restrictions on borders continuing to exist due to the vaccine rollout failure, several businesses in the tourism industry have suffered. Two such business owners from the tourism industry, Alan Walsh and Andrea Cameron from Cairns have had to let go of their employees as their businesses have decimated respectively (Johnson, 2021). While the government has launched a $1.2 billion package to support the tourism sector by encouraging Australians to spend on domestic travel, it is too selective and will not do enough help to those who rely heavily on international tourism (Johnson, 2021). A strong and effective vaccine rollout, however, would strongly assist in recovering international tourism.
Future outlook of vaccine rollout
Hopes that all Australians would have had their first dosage of the vaccine by October 2021 are over. Initially, the government had ordered 54 million doses of AstraZeneca, with the vast majority to be made by CSL in Melbourne (“October Vaccine Hopes All But Over After AstraZeneca Blood Clot Concerns Prompt Rollout Shake-up”, 2021). However, after discussing the risks of this vaccine, as well as European regulators reiterating the possibility of links between the vaccine and cases of blood clots, the government has recommended to not give the only vaccine produced by Australia to those under-50s (Duran, 2021). Instead, the government is now focussing on buying more Pfizer vaccine in an already very tight market, thereby abandoning its plans to vaccinate all Australians by the end of 2021 (“October Vaccine Hopes All But Over After AstraZeneca Blood Clot Concerns Prompt Rollout Shake-up”, 2021). Furthermore, no more timelines are being given, however, the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly does claim to have all vulnerable groups vaccinated by the end of the year (Duran, 2021).
The wider implications beyond the health concerns include economic and social damage. Health experts have warned that, even with the proposed reset of the vaccination program, it is close to impossible to place a timetable on its completion (AAP, 2021). Australia’s gallant effort in tackling COVID can be largely attributed to its hard border policies and their inclination to act quickly in times of distress, as exemplified by a case found in a returning traveller in the Perth community. Nonetheless, the vaccine rollout has continued to frustrate the nation. Sectors like tourism and aviation are heavily relying on high levels of immunisation to revive business and failure to achieve the desired target risks jeopardising the newly opened Australia-New Zealand travel bubble, along with other potential travel hubs with countries such as Singapore (BBC, 2021). The glacial pace of the delivery has, thus, left around 30,000 Australians stranded abroad (Remeikis, 2021), with pressure mounting on reopening up international borders. As a whole, bringing forward AstraZeneca vaccines for people aged over 50 and booting up more state-run vaccination hubs is crucial in the operation of the ‘new-normal’ world.
BBC News (2021, April). What’s gone wrong with Australia’s vaccine rollout? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56825920
Evershed, N & Nicholas, J (2021, April 23rd). Australia has received only 70% of Covid vaccine doses the government expected by now. The Guardian.
Al Jazeera (2021, April). Australia drops vaccine goal after AstraZeneca advice change. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/12/australia-drops-vaccine-goal-after-astrazeneca-advice-change
AAP (2021, April). Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination timetable still uncertain despite proposed reset. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australia-s-covid-19-vaccination-timetable-still-uncertain-despite-proposed-reset
Remeikis, A (2021, April 18th). Australia plans staggered reopening of international borders in second half of year. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/apr/18/australia-plans-staggered-reopening-of-international-borders-in-second-half-of-year
SBS News (2021, April). How many people in Australia have been vaccinated against coronavirus? https://www.sbs.com.au/news/how-many-people-in-australia-have-been-vaccinated-against-coronavirus
Lyons, S., & Taylor, T. (2020, September 22). A short history of vaccination campaigns in Australia and what we might expect with COVID-19. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2020-09-22/vaccine-history-coronavirus-smallpox-spanish-flu/12673832
NSW Health Department. (1997). One Hundred Years Of Vaccination. Public Health Bulletin. https://www.phrp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/NB97025.pdf
Carruthers, F., O’Mallon, F., Baird, L., Hare, J., & Turner, S. (2021, April 16). The sectors set to suffer from vaccine shambles. Financial Review. https://www.afr.com/companies/tourism/the-sectors-set-to-suffer-from-vaccine-shambles-20210414-p57j0g
Welch, I. (2021, March 19). Faster global vaccine roll-out could boost Australian economy by $17bn. KPMG. https://home.kpmg/au/en/home/media/press-releases/2021/03/faster-global-vaccine-roll-out-could-boast-australian-economy-17bn-19-march-2021.html
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Johnson, P. (2021, March 11). Government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and latest tourism stimulus package attacked on Q+A. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-11/q-and-a-government-tourism-support-package-panned-by-operators/13240242
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Duran, P. (2021, April 12). Australia abandons COVID-19 vaccination targets after new advice on AstraZeneca shots. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/australia-abandons-covid-19-vaccination-targets-after-new-advice-astrazeneca-2021-04-11/
What’s gone wrong with Australia’s vaccine rollout?, BBC News (2021, April 22). https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56825920
Dalzell, S & Lowrey, T. (2021, April 20). Resetting Australia’s troubled COVID-19 vaccine rollout at top of National Cabinet agenda. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-19/national-cabinet-april-covid-vaccine-rollout/100077194
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