Australian states have hit back at the federal government after it blamed them for a slow vaccine rollout, with the New South Wales health minister, Brad Hazzard, demanding an apology, while Queensland’s deputy premier, Steven Miles, called on the Nationals deputy leader, David Littleproud, to “give himself an uppercut”.

The federal government initially committed to administering 4m Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, including up to 1.4m doses to the most high-risk people as part of phase 1a of the rollout. Australia is 3.4m doses short of that target.

The federal government is responsible for acquiring and delivering the vaccines to the states and territories, which are then responsible for administering them. On Tuesday, Morrison blamed the states for the delays, saying states and territories have had the vaccine delivery schedule for the past 12 weeks. But Hazzard said NSW had not been given enough warning about vaccine deliveries and the number of doses.

“We were under the impression from the advice we received from the federal government that we would receive just over 13,000 vaccines,” Hazzard said. “What they actually gave us, with no forward announcement, was 45,000 and then a few days later there is a press report saying we haven’t distributed them all. Well, you get 45,000 items dumped on your front door at night and told ‘Now you should have it out by the next morning’. No one would be able to do that.”

He said public health staff had been working “into the wee small hours” to administer the vaccine. He said he was “not happy at all today”. “The federal government should be offering apologies to not only our government but other governments around the country,” he said.

The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said 150,000 people in the state had received a vaccine – either the first shot or the second shot or both. Of these, she said 100,000 were provided by the state government, while just 50,000 were provided by the commonwealth.

“Please note, as many of you here and at home would know, for many weeks I have been saying to the commonwealth, to the federal government, that NSW is ready and willing to make sure that we support you in the vaccine rollout,” she said.

“What we are saying to the commonwealth is we will have at least 100 hubs across the state, please allow us to work with you so that we have a chance of meeting the October deadline. We have put this request in and I am going to write formally to the prime minister today.”

She added it was “extremely unfair” that the federal government was giving the state just 24 to 48 hours notice about how many new doses were incoming, and that it was time to “put the facts on the table” about the rollout.

Guardian Australia has asked the health minister, Greg Hunt, for detail on what proportion of the 1.4m doses promised as part of 1a have been administered, but is yet to receive a response.

The Queensland Labor premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, backed the NSW criticism, accusing the federal government of an “orchestrated attack against the states and territories”.

“It really is quite outrageous. I mean, God knows, they’ve got a lot to deflect from right now,” Palaszczuk said.

The agreement between the states and territories and the commonwealth leaves responsibility for 70% of the vaccination task with the federal government, Palaszczuk said. Like Hazzard, she said the state government was not regularly updated about supply.

“We need surety of supply by the federal government, and if the states are releasing their figures every day, I think that it is only fair, fair and reasonable, that the federal government releases its figures every day,” she said.

Miles, the state’s deputy premier, weighed in on Twitter, responding to comments made by Littleproud on Nine’s Today program on Wednesday. Littleproud said: “If the federal government hasn’t done their job, we deserve an uppercut. But let me say the states have been sitting on their hands, they’ve been too complacent. We are going to help the states but they have to admit they have a problem because they have done three fifths of bugger all and they are holding this nation back.”

Miles retorted that Littleproud should “give himself an uppercut”.

“Federal government ministers have once again lined up to attack Queensland over our Covid response,” he wrote on Twitter.

“They attacked our borders and they attacked our lockdowns. Now they’re attacking our vaccine progress, something THEY’RE responsible. This morning David Littleproud said that the federal government should get an uppercut if the vaccine rollout wasn’t up to scratch. Well he should give himself an uppercut.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the ACT health minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, said comments from some commonwealth ministers had been “extremely disappointing and betray a real lack of understanding”. She noted the federal health minister, Hunt, had not made comments blaming the states.

During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Hunt attempted to ease tensions, praising the states and territories.

“The states and territories are doing a first-class job, the general practices have stepped up, the commonwealth is contributing, and all are coming together to see that figure of 72,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours and 670,000 vaccinations cumulatively,” Hunt said. “We have confidence in all of the states and territories. They are all managing their programs as they best see fit and they are working towards making sure that all of those vaccines are used.”

Asked when the 4m target would be met, Hunt did not give a clear time frame but said the program was “on track” to meet other rolling targets throughout the year now that local production of the vaccine had accelerated.

“We remain on track to complete first doses for all Australians who seek it by the end of October,” he said.

Asked about Queensland having to withhold some doses of its Pfizer vaccine to ensure it had enough in stock for people to receive their second dose, and about the comments from Littleproud that this meant vaccine was “sitting on the rack”. Hunt said he “fully” supported Queensland’s work.

The saga prompted the Greens on Wednesday to call for an urgent independent review into what they described as “the serious and widespread problems with Australia’s vaccine rollout”.

“The vaccine rollout for which both the federal and state governments have responsibility is having more than so called ‘teething problems’ and these are having real-world consequences with the latest Covid-19 outbreaks spreading in Queensland and threatening in NSW,” the Greens spokesperson on health, senator Rachel Siewert, said.

“Targets have well and truly been missed. There are low supplies of vaccine and some of what vaccine is available is apparently sitting unused. It appears there is poor communication between levels of government, and some doctors are reported to be requiring pre-vaccination consultations. Frontline workers and vulnerable people are being let down. We are a month into the vaccine rollout and we still haven’t vaccinated all of our frontline workers, aged care and disability care staff.

“It appears that the only way to get governments to take responsibility for these failures is through an urgent and rapid independent review to identify and fix the current issues.”


Melissa Davey

The GuardianTramp

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