Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles has delivered another broadside at the federal government’s handling of the vaccine rollout, saying barely any of the state’s aged care residents or workers have received the jab and warning the state is running dangerously low on Pfizer and AstraZeneca supplies.
Relations between federal and state governments soured significantly this week, after federal minister David Littleproud accused states of doing “bugger all” to help with the vaccine rollout for frontline healthcare workers.
That’s despite data clearly showing the federal government is well behind its own targets on vaccinating aged and disability care residents, a key commonwealth responsibility.
A little over five weeks into the rollout, the commonwealth health department has vaccinated about half of Australia’s 190,000 aged and disability care residents.
The government said they would all be vaccinated within roughly six weeks. It has also missed its initial target of vaccinating 4 million Australians by the end of March, achieving only a fraction of that number, and has faced strong criticisms from general practitioners, who say they are experiencing delivery failures, undersupply and poor communication.
On Thursday, Miles labelled Littleproud “2021’s April fool”, and accused him of attacking the states to divert attention away from the scandal surrounding federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming.
Miles said the state has been left with just three days’ supply of the Pfizer vaccine and 12 days’ supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“[Littleproud] should not have risked confidence in the vaccine for the Morrison government’s political benefits,” he said.
Miles blamed the continued two-week lockdown of Queensland’s aged care facilities on the lack of progress from the commonwealth on the aged care vaccine rollout.
“Unfortunately, they [the restrictions] are necessary because only a third of aged care residents have been vaccinated and almost no aged care workers have been vaccinated so far,” Miles said. “Similarly, very, very few residents of support disability accommodation have been vaccinated and for those reasons, we need to maintain those lockdowns for 14 more days.”
Littleproud hit back later on Thursday, saying he would not be lectured to by Miles and accused the Queensland government of being “derelict in their duty” of protecting frontline health workers.
“His statements today also show why he and his government are incompetent. My statements pertained to assisting the [Queensland] government roll out the vaccines they’ve left in the rack rather than in health workers arms,” he said.
The stoush comes after aged care advocates told the Guardian that the federal government appeared to have no real plan for the vaccination of aged care workers. The Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, said it was critical that workers – the main route of transmission into aged care – received their vaccinations.
“Vaccination of the staff is really important to the Covid security of residents, and we are concerned that the vaccination of staff doesn’t seem to have a clear strategy at this point,” Yates said.
The government has given no data on how many aged care workers have been vaccinated.
The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the state had offered to do more to help the federal government with the rollout, after it has administered the 300,000 doses it currently has responsibility for.
The premier said she wrote to the prime minister on Wednesday making that offer and was waiting for a response.
Berejiklian said without the state’s help, the federal government would not meet its October target to provide first doses to all Australians who want one.
“You can’t do it on your own and that is why I am suggesting that once we have completed the 300,000 we have been asked to do, that we will have the capacity to do tens of thousands extra every week to support what the commonwealth is doing,” Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, sought to calm tensions with the states on Wednesday, publicly commending them on their performance in the vaccine rollout and refusing to buy into the criticism aired by his ministerial colleague. He instead trumpeted a record day for vaccinations, with 72,000 administered on Wednesday, and said the government would reach its target of first doses being delivered by October.
It has currently vaccinated about 670,000 people.
“We’ll be at over 750,000 or three-quarters of a million most likely by the end of today,” Hunt said. “And we’re in a very strong situation where we now have sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability in Australia. And that means certainty of supply, and with that certainty of supply comes an expansion.”
The government’s 4 million target was revised in January, when it became clear that international supply would be interrupted. But the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said no one had made prime minister Scott Morrison set that target.
“This federal government has to accept responsibility for the failings which are there,” he said. “No one made Scott Morrison deliver the target of 4 million people being vaccinated by the end of March. It was Scott Morrison who chose to do that. It was Scott Morrison who said that he wasn’t going to make promises that couldn’t be kept.”
The Guardian has also spoken to a large number of general practitioners, who say the commonwealth’s failings on vaccine supply are undermining their attempts to administer the jabs to the 6 million people who are part of the rollout’s second stage, phase 1b, which covers older Australians, older Indigenous Australians, some healthcare workers and the immunocompromised.
Miles also warned the federal government had refused to engage with its desire to build a national quarantine facility to house returning travellers.
“Yesterday David Littleproud said that whatever the states needed, the commonwealth would provide,” he said. “Well, we need a national quarantine centre so that we can reduce the risk of returning travellers so that we don’t have to cut back on the number of returning travellers when we have an outbreak.”