AstraZeneca setback will have dramatic consequences on our daily lives

If you weren’t yet willing to concede Australia’s vaccine rollout was a disaster at lunchtime on Thursday, then by dinner time there was little room for debate.

Already three million jabs behind where the nation was supposed to be eight days ago, the decision by health authorities to advise against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Australians under 50 is calamitous.

Greg Hunt, Professor Paul Kelly and Professor Brendan Murphy with Prime Minister Scott Morrison taking a closer look at his notes during a press conference on Thursday night.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Unless the federal government can source millions of extra Pfizer doses from overseas within months, it is unlikely the nation will meet the October deadline of all Australians having received at least one dose. November or December may well be even too optimistic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was rather ashen faced as he delivered the news to the nation a bit after 7pm. One can assume he was expecting medical experts to tell him the vaccine would be, like Britain, ruled out only for those under 30. That would have brought about a course correction but not one so dramatic as what now lies ahead.

This will have dramatic consequences on many facets of our daily lives. It will likely mean our borders are closed for longer. The risk of our cities being plunged into lockdowns will be around for longer and it’s highly likely that almost two years will have passed since life existed as we knew it.

We were warned this was a risk. Critics and the Labor opposition had said the government had put too many eggs in the one basket. Our only vaccine manufacturing company is making a vaccine that millions are now told they cannot use – 50 million of them. And it is likely to be at least four months until we see any sign of the 51 million Novavax doses on order arrive on our shores. Until then, medical authorities will target our most vulnerable at a rate of almost 80,000 a day while supply allows it.

It’s important to remember things are never as good as they seem but of course they’re never as bad either. This is a decision made out of an abundance of caution. And one, by virtue of the strong position the country is in, it can afford to make.

Across the world, in emerging nations such as Brazil and India, thousands are still dying every day and it is only getting worse. Even our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is on the brink of a full-blown crisis.

The world’s efforts should be in helping the world’s most vulnerable and, by good fortune and good planning, have no community transmission. But we have seen how just one breach of hotel quarantine can paralyse our cities and unleash a deadly third phase.

Australians over the past 12 months have been willing to forgive mistakes as long as our leaders own up to them and right the wrongs they created. For all the federal government’s achievements, they will be washed away if they cannot correct the course.

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