The New South Wales government has taken up just 145,000 of the almost 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine allocated to it by the commonwealth, leaving vaccinations to either stockpile or be directed overseas.
As greater Sydney grapples with its spiralling Covid-19 outbreak, the NSW government has become increasingly critical of the commonwealth’s supply of vaccinations, with the premier Gladys Berejiklian last week lamenting the lack of pandemic planning “at other levels”.
“We need to make sure the vaccine is accessible to all of our population and we have those doses available,” she said following an emergency national cabinet meeting.
With the majority of AstraZeneca vaccines in NSW having been administered by the commonwealth through GP clinics, the federal government has become increasingly frustrated by the criticism. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, on Wednesday accused Berejiklian of failing to administer enough AstraZeneca vaccines at its state-based vaccination hubs.
“I would like to see more AstraZeneca vaccines being distributed through the state-based clinics like Victoria has been able to achieve,” Morrison said.
Much of that frustration comes from NSW’s decision not to accept allocations of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of what it says is a lack of demand for the jab.
Under the federal government’s vaccination program, every state and territory was allocated a proportionate share of both the AstraZeneca vaccination and Pfizer.
While NSW was allocated 800,000 doses of AstraZeneca, it has only taken up 145,000. Amid the latest outbreak, the federal government offered NSW an extra 150,000 doses of AstraZeneca doses for its population, along with 150,000 Pfizer jabs. But the state opted only to take on the Pfizer vaccinations, and has regularly called for more of that vaccine.
Since the rollout began, only 110,000 of the 145,000 ordered AstraZeneca vaccines have been distributed through the state-run vaccination clinics, and the state has not distributed any of the extra 150,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on offer.
Guardian Australia understands the 655,000 AstraZeneca vaccines allocated to NSW – but not ordered – has either been stockpiled, offered to other states, or donated overseas as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ aid effort.
But the state’s health department says it has asked for additional doses of AstraZeneca to be delivered to GPs and pharmacies, which Morrison announced on Thursday would be brought forward by the commonwealth, and that extra doses are not required because of a lack of demand.
“NSW Health has sufficient AstraZeneca supplies to meet existing demand at its clinics and has always maintained that GPs, and now pharmacies, should be people’s first option when seeking vaccination with AstraZeneca,” a department spokesperson told the Guardian.
In a statement, NSW Health said the federal government’s approval of its request for 1,250 community pharmacies was a “major boost” to the rollout of AstraZeneca, and that it had asked the commonwealth to “allocate AstraZeneca to pharmacies, as this is the vaccine they are approved to administer”.
“This is far more pharmacies approved to administer vaccines than all other states and territories combined,” a health spokesperson said.
“Twenty pharmacies have started administering AstraZeneca in NSW this week with a further 48 starting next Monday, 26 July, in south-west Sydney, which has seen the majority of recent locally acquired cases during the current outbreak.
“A further 300 community pharmacies will begin to administer AstraZeneca in the first two weeks of August in greater Sydney, including the Central Coast and Wollongong, with pharmacies throughout NSW set to follow.”
But the NSW government has also indicated the extra AstraZeneca were not needed for its hubs because of lack of demand for the jab as a result of hesitancy caused by the rare blood clotting disease associated with it.
While NSW lowered the age a person could receive AstraZeneca at its hubs from 60 to 40 at the beginning of the outbreak, uptake does not seem to have risen.
NSW has so far administered only about 110,000 AstraZeneca doses through its state clinics, paling in comparison to Victoria which has administered about 420,000 doses of the vaccine.
On Thursday the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, noted that at the vaccination hub at Sydney Olympic Park on Wednesday, 9,000 Pfizer vaccines and just 50 AstraZeneca vaccines were administered.
“It’s a shocker … I think that’s obviously come off the back of advice that came out of Atagi, and also then translated by the federal government,” Hazzard said.
“I just think we need to take a step back and say … most of us can’t afford the luxury of sitting back and saying I don’t want to have the vaccine that has actually been taken by almost every country in the world and kept other countries safe.”