SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities should add more clinics to speed up the country’s struggling COVID-19 vaccine rollout, its main medical association said on Thursday, dismissing a government plan to create mass inoculation hubs as unworkable in the near term.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Omar Khorshid said establishing mass centres would pose “huge logistical challenges”, including the difficulty of finding enough medical staff to manage the facilities.
“You need to find a workforce from somewhere, and we are not aware of large numbers of registered nurses and doctors who are available to manage these centres,” Khorshid told ABC Radio.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he would discuss with state and territory leaders setting up mass centres to vaccinate people above the age of 50 from as early as June.
Morrison has been under pressure to put the country’s vaccination programme back on track after problems with the rollout, caused in part by patchy international vaccine supplies and changing medical advice, led to significant delays.
Australia earlier this week abandoned a target to provide at least one vaccine dose to the near 26 million population by year-end after restricting the rollout of its favoured AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 over clotting concerns.
Findings by Europe’s drug regulator of rare cases of blood clots among some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine were a major blow for Australia, which planned to produce 50 million doses locally after manufacture began at the end of last month.
Australian officials overhauled the programme in response, doubling an earlier order of Pfizer vaccines to 40 million shots.
Khorshid said it made sense to delay the creation of mass vaccination hubs until bulk deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine are due later in the year.
Morrison, who has reinstated twice weekly meetings of the national cabinet tasked with tackling the pandemic after the country missed initial immunisation targets, said he would consider the AMA’s suggestions.
About 1.36 million total doses have been administered as of Wednesday, far short of the 4 million pledged by end-March.
Still, Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths.
Low case numbers have encouraged authorities to ease restrictions, helping put the economy on a faster recovery path. Australian unemployment dropped to a one-year low in March, data out on Thursday showed, with the number of people in work surpassing the pre-pandemic peak.
A strong rebound in domestic travel, meanwhile, prompted Qantas Airways Ltd on Thursday to raise its forecast for the current quarter and it expects domestic travel to top pre-pandemic levels next financial year.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)