Only about 9.5 percent of Australia’s population of 26 million has been fully vaccinated, with 27 percent of people having had at least one dose, according to New York Times data – figures that lag behind many other richer nations.
The rollout of doses has been hampered by shifting advice about the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only one manufactured domestically, which the authorities currently recommend only for those over 60. People under 40 are not yet eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only alternative, because of supply shortages.
In radio interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the sluggish rollout on Australia’s vaccine advisory body, saying its “cautious” guidance had “put us behind.”
The body, a panel of health experts known as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, issued recommendations beginning in April that younger people should wait until the Pfizer vaccine was available, because of a very small risk of blood clots connected to the AstraZeneca shots.
On Tuesday, the group revised its advice, saying that during an outbreak, when the supply of Pfizer was low, people should consider getting the AstraZeneca shots despite the rare clotting risk.
Morrison said that the group’s initial advice constrained use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Australia had invested in most heavily, and was based on the assumption that case numbers in the country would remain low. “I never made that assumption,” he said.