Analysis shows early vaccine goals were predictably unrealistic

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An in-depth analysis of the first weeks of Australia's COVID-19 national immunisation program shows the rollout is behind Israel, the US and UK, but broadly in line with the experience of Canada, South Korea and the European Union.

HealthDispatch has analysed the rollouts in Australia and comparable countries. The analysis covers the first 37 days of rollouts in Israel, the US, UK, European Union, Canada, South Korea and Australia (View analysis here).

The analysis is based on 37 days because it covers the period from the launch of Australia's rollout to 31 March. It is based on the percentage of the population administered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. It then compares the early period of Australia's rollout by analysing the first 37 days of rollouts in the other countries and the 27-member states of the European Union.

It shows that, excluding Israel, the early period of the rollout in most countries was slow but that it has then tended to inconsistently accelerate in the second month.

It suggests the Australian government's initial targets were predictably unrealistic given the reliance on a series of batches imported from Europe. Yet the international experience suggests it should significantly accelerate in April as it benefits from the consistent supply of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine manufactured by CSL at its facilities in Melbourne.

In late January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the objective of administering four million doses by early April.

"Yeah, look, I think it is difficult to predict these things and the events of recent weeks I think will mean that four million position will be something that is going to be achieved in early April as opposed to late March," he said.

The would equate to the administration of a first dose to around 16 per cent of Australia's population. The HealthDispatch analysis shows that only Israel has exceeded or even got close to achieving that level on that timeline.

At the end of March, Australia's rollout had administered 670,000 doses, equating to around 2.6 per cent of its population. This is the same as Canada and ahead of the member states of the European Union at the same point in their rollouts.

It shows Israel's remarkable achievement of administering a first dose to 31.4 per cent of its population in the first 37 days of its rollout. The UK at 6 per cent and the US at 5.5 per cent also achieved strong results.

At 2.6 per cent, Australia's performance was in line with that of Canada (2.6 per cent), but ahead of South Korea (1.7 per cent), the European Union (1.5 per cent) and Japan (0.7 per cent).

The analysis shows that the higher-achieving countries (Israel, UK and US) are those that acted quickly to secure a consistent supply of COVID-19 vaccine.

The US did its first deal for an investigative vaccine candidate (J&J) in March 2020. It secured agreements with Moderna in April, AstraZeneca in May, Novavax and Pfizer-BioNTech in July. It then secured additional doses of some of those vaccines in follow-up deals before Australia secured its first deal for doses.

The UK announced its first agreement for a COVID-19 vaccine in May (AstraZeneca). It announced a deal for Pfizer-BioNTech in July.

Israel secured a consistent early supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by agreeing to provide the companies with de-identified patient data on its use in the country. In effect, it is a nationwide post-approval study.

Australia did not announce its first dose deal until September (AstraZeneca). It then announced agreements for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax vaccines in November.

The timing of Australia's agreements was broadly in line with that of the countries whose vaccine rollouts have also been impacted by supply issues, notably Canada and the European Union. Australia's rollout would be completely exposed in the absence of CSL's manufacturing capability.

The HealthDispatch analysis has also followed the rollouts in Israel, the US, UK and Canada and the European Union for a subsequent 30 days. This equates to the end of April for Australia's rollout.

The experience of these other rollouts gives some indication of what Australia might expect over the next 30 days of if its program.

In the next 30 days of its program, the percentage of Israelis administered a first dose rose from 31.4 per cent to 52.9 per cent. The UK went from 5 to 23.5 per cent and the US from 5.5 per cent to 13.2 per cent. Canada went from 2.5 per cent to 5.4 per cent and the European Union from 1.5 per cent to 4.3 per cent as they both continued to struggle with supply issues.

Australia would only need to administer around 50,000 doses per day between now and the end of April to comfortably outperform Canada and the European Union. Administering 100,000 doses per day in April would mean Australia's rollout exceeds the performance of the US. It would have to administer around 200,000 doses per day to match the UK's performance. Matching Israel appears out of the question.