Australia’s rollout began in late February, more than two months after the UK and US, as there was no rush to approve emergency vaccines.
The first setback came in March when the EU banned the export of continent-made vaccines, causing 3.1 million of the 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca to fail to arrive in Australia on time.
As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison missed his goal of vaccinating four million Aussies at 85 percent by the end of March.
In April, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization recommended that Australia’s main vaccine and the only one that can make it ashore, the AstraZeneca shot, should not be given to patients under the age of 50 because of a very rare but serious side effect of blood clots.
Australians line up to get scarce Pfizer but have shunned bountiful AstraZeneca
The move caused chaos as the government scrambled to secure more doses of Pfizer, the only other approved vaccine, and pushed back its goal of giving everyone a first dose from October to December.
Pfizer agreed to sell Australia another 20 million doses, doubling the existing total, but said not all would arrive before the end of the year.
Morrison admitted the change had huge implications for the vaccination program, saying: “That was a big shock to the rollout and it’s events beyond the government’s control.”
The change also caused an increase in hesitation as a Essential research found that 16 percent of Aussies said they would not get vaccinated, up from 12 percent in March, and the proportion willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible dropped from 47 percent to 42 percent.
In June, the experts changed the advice again, recommending that only people over 60 get the AstraZeneca shot after 12 more cases of blood clots were recorded in a week, seven in their 50s.
Officials made their decision based on a risk-benefit analysis that took into account the fact that Australia had very low levels of Covid-19 due to its strict international border closure.
dr. Jamal Rifi, owner of Belmore Medical Center in Sydney’s west, told ABC: “People talk about hesitation or reluctance, it goes way beyond that. It’s a refusal of patients to get the AstraZeneca.”
On July 8, the government announced a deal with Pfizer to bring forward deliveries to secure at least one million vaccines per week from July 19.