The Guardian • Issue #1972


ATAGI not the problem, our prime minister is

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1972

With less than fifteen per cent fully vaccinated and less than twenty per cent only having their first dose, to say that the Morrison government’s vaccine rollout has been a disaster would be an understatement. The failure of the vaccine rollout has a clear ideological bent of putting profits before people. As a result, Australia ranks near the bottom of vaccination rates among OECD countries.

Reports emerged that the government balked at the asking price from pharmaceutical giant Pzifer – a claim that has been denied. Instead, the government opted for the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca which, unlike the Pzifer, could be made in Australia. The company that has contracts with AstraZeneca is CSL. Who has shares in CSL? Liberal MP Dave Sharma. The reader can draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, instead of building or creating purpose-built quarantine centres, the government opted for the much less effective hotel quarantines.

With the failure of the goverrnment’s nickel-and-diming approach to the vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought to shift the blame elsewhere, his target: the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Morrison has blamed ATAGI’s “assumption” that Australia would continue to have low cases, which led to the group preferring AstraZeneca to Pzifer for under 60s as having “created some confusion in the public” about the former vaccine. Morrison also stated that ATAGI had “been very cautious and that had a massive impact on the rollout of the vaccine program, it really did.” The problem with this assessment is that it is incorrect. An ATAGI statement, released on the 8th of April, explicitly stated that:

“While Australia currently has very low or no community transmission of COVID-19, this could change, particularly in the context of high global transmission rates, including of new variants of the virus.”

Furthermore, ATAGI stated that:

“COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca can be used in adults aged under fifty years where the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks for that individual and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits.”

Simply put, in preferring the Pzifer vaccine over AstraZeneca for young of age, ATAGI was only doing its due diligence in giving a nuanced response. Thus, before the Delta strain entered Australia, there was no reason to stop the Morrison government from opening eligibility for AstraZeneca. Of course, it would have meant extending the commonwealth indemnity and rebate for consultations (i.e. spending more money) which it was not inclined to do until now.

It now appears that the prime minister is set on making ATAGI officials pay for his screw-up. Associate Professor Nigel Crawford has now become the new Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation chairman, replacing Allen Cheng and Christopher Blyth from this month. Of course, the Prime Minister has denied that the shake-up is a result of vaccine advice.

It was not until a national outcry that Morrison buckled and finally apologised for the failure of the vaccine rollout. Yet, it appears that he won’t stop blaming others, whether they be doctors, premiers, and everyday citizens, for his mistakes, certainly not anytime soon.

Tags COVID-19
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