Via video link: Today I express the enormous frustration and anxiety felt by my community during the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. At the beginning of the COVID vaccine response, the Australian Prime Minister established a distribution model that unquestionably divided our country based on class and wealth. In simple terms, the Prime Minister of this country set up a model whereby the rich and wealthy had terrific access, while poor and regional communities had terrible access to vaccines. It may be that the Prime Minister had no ability to foresee the true effects of his chosen model for vaccine distribution. If this is true, then he really needs to get a new job because he is well out of his depth in the current one. Seriously, could a Prime Minister really be that inept?
Personally, I believe it far more likely that Prime Minister Scott Morrison knew exactly and precisely what he was doing when he decided that vaccines would be rolled out through GPs and pharmacies almost exclusively. He knew that this model would favour those living in suburbs where the GP-to-resident ratio is high—perhaps as good as one GP for every 1,000 residents. He knew that this model would be least successful for communities where those GP-to-resident ratios are lowest—for example, suburbs in low socio-economic communities and regional communities where there can sometimes be just one GP for every 2,000 or 3,000 residents. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know this. And where goes a GP also goes a pharmacist. The work of pharmacists is inextricably linked to the work of GPs.
So it is no surprise that in New South Wales the communities that have had wonderful access to COVID vaccines have been, almost exclusively, north of the Sydney Harbour. Those kicking vaccination goals first of all were from Ku-ring-gai, Baulkham Hills, Hornsby, Pennant Hills, Pittwater and Manly—and good on them. They had terrific access to vaccines while poor and regional communities had terrible access to vaccines. Meanwhile, until specific New South Wales Government interventions fixed Morrison’s mess, places like Bourke, Dubbo, Cessnock, Cobar, Tenterfield, Moree and Inverell lagged terribly behind those well-to-do Sydney suburbs. But even inside of Sydney, there were places like St Marys, Canterbury, Auburn, Mount Druitt and Fairfield that were also doing really poorly on the early vaccination front. Scott Morrison knew this would be the case, and if he did not know it, he should not be the Prime Minister.
The work of the New South Wales Government and NSW Health was further hindered by Morrison’s persistence that the New South Wales Government was just one of the clients seeking access to the vaccines, as though it was somehow in line with the normal GP or pharmacists. This meant that aside from the essential interventions by NSW Health in hotspots in western Sydney and western New South Wales—and good on the New South Wales Government for doing that work—there were no NSW Health vaccines left to assist places like Cessnock or Maitland or the Upper Hunter. We were left starving for vaccinations, while others feasted under the Morrison model. Now, as the Prime Minister crows about his “road map”, the people in communities that he deliberately left behind face longer periods in lockdown because they simply have not had the access that his preferred communities had. Perhaps he should have asked his wife, Jenny, what she thought about that model that he established. She may have given more balanced guidance to his elitist and entitled moral canyon.