Labor can attack the government’s vaccine rollout without dangerous fearmongering

Post No. 7 'Labor can attack the government’s vaccine rollout without dangerous fearmongering' was published on 20 June, 2021.

Right now, people seem to be more scared of the AstraZeneca vaccine than they are of COVID itself. This is a dangerous mindset that has been propagated by our nation’s politicians, especially Labor in their attacks on the government’s vaccine rollout.

The Morrison government’s initial target was to have all 20 million Australian adults fully vaccinated by October 2021. The rollout was to be heavily dominated by the AstraZeneca vaccine with local production of AstraZeneca occurring. However, the government’s ambition was decimated when ATAGI, a panel of the nation’s vaccine experts, recommended against the use of AstraZeneca for under-50s due to the risk of rare but deadly blood clotting.

The slowing of the rollout caused by the issues surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine could have been solved if the government had negotiated a variety of vaccine deals. Labor is right to attack the government for not planning for the likelihood that there would be problems with specific vaccines. However, their attack lines have drifted into the territory of contributing to people’s fear of AstraZeneca.

On Thursday, ATAGI announced it was changing its advice to recommend against the use of AstraZeneca for under-60s. This means the government will now offer the Pfizer vaccine to people under 60, including 2.1 million people aged 50-59 who have not yet been vaccinated. I’m not going to disagree with the nation’s vaccine experts of course but ATAGI’s decision has led to increased fear surrounding the vaccine rollout with over 50s rushing to cancel their second dose appointments despite the risk of blood clotting being much lower for the second dose. This has not been helped by politicians rushing to attack the government.

Kristina Keneally’s recent Twitter thread following ATAGI’s decision was very disappointing to read. I have seen Labor repeat the line that the vaccine rollout is a race that Australia is falling behind in before, but this is simply not true. The global rollout of the vaccine is not a race between rich white nations, it is a collective global effort to reduce the level of tragic death and illness. There is a simple truth: Australia does not need this vaccine as much as other nations do.

COVID has been managed well by all levels of government in Australia, we have excellent health care infrastructure and minimal case numbers while nations like India who do not have such luxuries struggle to vaccinate their population. These nations who have been gripped by COVID much more than we have should be prioritised in receiving shipments of vaccines.

Keneally’s words are not helpful and pushing the idea that it is a “race” rather than ensuring safety and confidence in the vaccine is irresponsible. It’s hard to see her words as anything other than a justification of people’s hesitation surrounding vaccination and encouraging the “I’ll just wait for Pfizer” crowd.

Health professionals have become experienced at managing blood clot cases following vaccination. Every death is a tragedy and it is regrettable that people have died after receiving their vaccine, but the AstraZeneca vaccine remains incredibly safe compared to the risk of COVID infection. Despite the complications to the vaccine rollout, Pfizer will finish delivering its initial 300 million dose order by the United States in mid-July and production deliveries to other countries like Australia will ramp up following that. Australia is behind where the government initially planned to be, but we are not in dire straits just yet.

Labor is right to attack the government for failing to secure a variety of vaccine deals, mismanaging COVID quarantine, and not funding local mRNA vaccine production but currently its attack lines are contributing to dangerous fear mongering surrounding the safety of the vaccine.