Australia NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner defends COVID-19 vaccine utilisation rate, called 'staggeringly' low

13:06  18 may  2021
13:06  18 may  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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The Northern Territory Chief Minister has defended the Territory's COVID-19 vaccine utilisation rate, which has been described as "staggeringly" low after new figures revealed it to be the worst in the country.

The figures revealed the NT's vaccine utilisation rate, comparing the number of vaccines used by states and territories with how many they've been allocated, is sitting at just 58 per cent.

Meanwhile, Tasmania, Australia's best-performing state, had administered 90 per cent of its vaccines, while the nation's most populous state, New South Wales, had used 78 per cent.

On ABC Radio Darwin this morning, Mr Gunner conceded that while the Northern Territory was once "leading the pack", the rollout would now start to "become a bit wavy".

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He said part of the problem was a need to reserve some vaccines for follow-up doses.

"You'll find all of us, including the Territory, need to hold enough stock for the second shot," he said.

"We are essentially on track for the vaccine to be available — if not delivered — to everybody by the end of the year."

Mr Gunner said the Territory's young population — and greater need for the Pfizer vaccine — as well as its remoteness had also slowed the rollout.

In a bid to hasten the vaccination rollout, the NT government today announced anyone above the age of 16 living outside the Greater Darwin region was now eligible to make a booking for the Pfizer jab.

A spokesman for Mr Gunner said the vaccine would be offered to people under 50 living in Darwin when there was more certainty around supply.

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"We don't have a precise timeline for this yet," he said.

Strategy sparks wastage concerns

Mr Gunner's comments have been criticised by deputy opposition leader Gerard Maley, who said the utilisation rate was "staggeringly" low and labelled the rollout a "bungle".

He said federal health authorities had advised states and territories to avoid stockpiling and vaccinate people as quickly as possible.

"The Territory has a large Indigenous population, which is vulnerable to COVID," he said.

"The Chief Minister should be doing everything he can to make sure vaccines reach those who need it most."

Peta Rutherford, who heads up the Rural Doctors' Association of Australia, has also warned that, while rolling the Pfizer vaccine out to remote areas could be challenging, state-level governments risked wasting vaccines if they were stockpiled.

"If a person is eligible for the vaccine and that vaccine is available, we would strongly recommend that people have the vaccine," she said.

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She said it was important that state and federal governments were doing everything in their power to get as many people vaccinated "as quickly as possible".

"In places like Darwin and Alice Springs, you only have to walk around to see the impact of the border closures in those communities," she said.

"Many places in the Northern Territory are hurting because of our closed borders."

Navy Commodore Eric Young, who was recruited to lead the logistics of the national vaccine rollout, said utilisation rates fell when guidelines about the AstraZeneca vaccine changed.

In the NT, more than 35,000 vaccines have been administered and almost 9,000 Territorians have received both doses.

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This is interesting!