ACT blasts federal ministers over COVID-19 vaccine 'beat up'

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has blasted federal ministers for "extremely disappointing" comments about state and territory efforts during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Federal Agricultural Minister David Littleproud on Wednesday morning told Nine's Today program states should "pull their finger out", after vaccine data was leaked to News Corp media on Tuesday.

News Corp outlets suggested states and territories had drastically under-delivered on COVID-19 vaccines that they had available to them. The ACT was said to have received 16,900 COVID-19 vaccines as at March 29, but only delivered 9746.

Ms Stephen-Smith said Mr Littleproud's comments, among others made by federal ministers, betrayed "a real lack of understanding of how the vaccination rollout has worked".

The reports outraged ministers in several other jurisdictions, too.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Wednesday hit back at what he deemed an attempt to "dump on the state government" via the media, saying the leaked data was misleading and undermined vaccine confidence.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said criticism from the federal government was an attempt to deflect from its own failings, claiming it was millions short of its vaccination target.

Earlier, Mr Littleproud said: "The states have been tasked with this responsibility, we all have a responsibility and a role to play but you've just got to do it. The fact is they have left these in the rack when they could have put them into people's arms.

"If the federal government hasn't done their job, we deserve an uppercut, but let me say the states have been sitting on their hands - they've been too complacent."

Ms Stephen-Smith said the figures didn't account for the inconsistent supply of vaccines the ACT had received from the Commonwealth.

She said they also didn't account for the ACT not being able to administer a full six doses from each vial of COVID-19 vaccine in the first couple of weeks of the territory's rollout. That was because the Commonwealth hadn't, at that point, delivered the necessary low dead space syringes.

"That supply has not always been consistent, it has not always been reliable, it has fluctuated, and in some cases the Commonwealth has oversupplied in one week and then asked us ... to hold onto additional doses that they have supplied accidentally to us, in order [for them] to be used the following week," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"For them to then come out and blame us for holding onto doses when that is specifically what they have asked us to do is outrageous and all it does is serve to undermine public confidence in the vaccination program."

Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said he wanted states and territories to make sure they rolled out their allocated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and used their "stockpiles".

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT did have supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine in its fridges and freezers, but that was to ensure the rollout ran smoothly with a fluctuating supply chain.

"Even if the dose supply was regular and arrived on the same day every week and was the amount we were expecting ... we would always have some in our fridge or freezer because that supply lasts for a week," the minister said.

"There will always be some that hasn't been put into people's arms yet. This whole thing is a beat up."

Ms Stephen-Smith said it was clear at the start of the rollout Australia wasn't going to meet its target of administering four million COVID-19 vaccines by the end of March.

She said while she believed Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal Health Minister Greg Hunt had accepted that, some ministers were "potentially feeling the heat on that".

"I just think it's a really unfortunate situation," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"In the actual program of the rollout, we're in a really good space, and that's why this commentary is just so disappointing."

Ms Stephen-Smith said ACT authorities had been "constantly reminding" Canberrans who were eligible for the vaccine that they could go and get it.

Mr Hunt said the states and territories were doing a "first-class job" administering jabs during the rollout, and the government's confidence in their systems was "clear and absolute".

This story ACT Health Minister blasts feds over vaccine 'beat up' first appeared on The Canberra Times.