Australia is ramping up its vaccination program following criticism it’s lagging behind schedule, with the number of general practice clinics offering the jab expected to double from 1,500 to 3,000 this week and rise to 4,000 sites by the end of the month.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd told reporters on Monday the push comes after four consecutive record days last week when it came to doses given.
“In the past two weeks, working with our other vaccination delivery sites and teams, our nation’s GPs helped to triple the number of doses of vaccine delivered in two weeks from 250,000 a week to over 840,000 in the last week,” Prof Kidd said.
“The daily and weekly numbers will continue to rise,” he added.
The new clinics will include general practices, Commonwealth-funded GP-led respiratory clinics and Aboriginal health services delivering vaccines to local communities.
Prof Kidd urged people to search for their local general practice or other vaccination clinic by visiting the health.gov.au.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has blamed the sluggish start on international supply chain issues but he says he is confident the rollout will speed up now that locally made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are rolling off production lines.
A national daily record of 79,000 injections were given on Thursday, ahead of the long weekend.
But the government is still a long way short of its promise to vaccinate four million people by April.
Mr Hunt has avoided putting a time frame on when the first two phases of the vaccination program, focusing on frontline health workers and older Australians, would be competed.
Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy said the rollout had been plagued by chaos and dysfunction.
Mr Conroy said one of the largest GP clinics in his electorate was set back by several days when a shipment of vaccines was sent to the wrong address.
His electorate is home to 24,000 constituents over the age of 70, who have no clear idea of when they will receive their two doses of vaccinations.
“This isn’t about politics,” Mr Conroy said on Monday.
“We’ve got both Labor and Liberal state governments saying the federal government is delivering this in a substandard, unacceptable way.”
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud has gone from blaming the states for the pace of the vaccine rollout to scolding the European Union for blocking supply.
Mr Littleproud argued Australia had been “badly let down” by the EU.
“This is the biggest vaccination program our country has ever seen and it’s important we understand what’s happening with it,” he told the Nine Network.
“The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short.”
As Australia edges towards one million vaccinations, the federal government is seeking to reassure the public about the safety of the AstraZeneca jab.
Health authorities are investigating after a 44-year-old Melbourne man developed blood clots about a fortnight after receiving his vaccination.
Authorities say it is likely the two events are linked but insist the AstraZeneca vaccine is still safe to use.
Mr Hunt said the vaccine had been put through rigorous testing, and checks and balances were in place to ensure all batches were up to scratch.
He said people susceptible to blood clots should consult their doctor before receiving a vaccine, but there was no impediment for the broader community.
Meanwhile, doctors are urging people to be vigilant about the potential spread of coronavirus as winter approaches.
A man infected with the South African strain of the virus is in a critical condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Chris Moye from the Australian Medical Association said it was an important reminder the coronavirus threat was not over.
“We’ve got to continue to do the right thing and we’ve got to get on with the vaccination of the community because this puts into perspective the risk is still there, particularly with winter coming,” he told ABC radio.
Several states recorded more infections among returned travellers in hotel quarantine on Monday, but there were no new cases of community transmission.