Concerns over faults in the first two weeks of Australia’s vaccine rollout have been dismissed as ‘noise’ despite two elderly Aussies overdosing.
A top public servant has dismissed concerns over issues in the government’s COVID-19 rollout, including two elderly Australians overdosing, as “noise”.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) secretary Phil Gaetjens fronted the Senate’s COVID-19 committee and was pressed on issues arising in the fortnight since Australia’s vaccine rollout began.
Two elderly Queenslanders were hospitalised in February after receiving four times the recommended dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, administered by a doctor who had not completed mandatory training.
The pair were released from hospital after suffering no ill effects.
Around 150 Pfizer doses were also discarded out of “an abundance of caution” after uncertainty over their storage.
But under pressure from Labor senator Katy Gallagher, Mr Gaetjens played down the incidents as “teething issues”.
“I would raise those issues in the category of noise. I think above that there is a very strong signal the vaccine is going out OK,” he said.
“I think they’re teething issues that can happen in any rollout of the logistical proportions that this one is.
“In terms of the overdose, that had been done in trials, and there was no harm to people.”
Ms Gallagher fired back, saying the incident had been “pretty traumatic” for the pair and could undermine confidence in the vaccination rollout as a whole.
“Kicking off with overdosing two elderly Australians isn’t an optimal outcome. That’s not really just noise,” she said.
But Mr Gaetjens claimed “issues like this will arise” in any major logistical effort, saying public confidence could be damaged by overemphasising minor hiccups.
“I think the more that people go on about small issues like this, that affects confidence more than the actual impact of those small issues themselves,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he remained optimistic a vaccine would be available to all Australians by the end of October.
“I do remain confident about that. That doesn’t mean we won’t hit some obstacles. It doesn’t mean there won’t be the odd frustration, the odd logistics issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.
But with just 83,396 vaccines administered across Australia by Sunday, well under initial government expectations, Mr Gaetjens was pressed on whether that timeframe was realistic.
He warned against jumping to conclusions, saying a “slow start” to vaccination was always expected.
“If you drew a linear line to reach that the answer would probably be it would not match that linear line,” he said.
“(But) it’s not just a linear tracking mechanism. It would be testing systems so that they are seen to be good and then lifting the rate so that those targets are met.”