Australia’s finance minister has said the country is at the “back of the queue” for Pfizer vaccines, contradicting assurances from the prime minister Scott Morrison and the health minister that “our strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue”.

Simon Birmingham on Thursday said Australia has had supply challenges “because European countries and drug companies have favoured those nations who’ve had high rates of Covid for the delivery of vaccines like Pfizer”.

“Which has put countries like New Zealand and Australia at the back of the queue in terms of receipt of some of those vaccines,” Birmingham said.

“But they’re coming.”

The bulk of Australia’s Pfizer and other mRNA vaccines are expected to arrive in the third quarter of this year. On Wednesday, the state of Queensland warned that it would run out of Pfizer vaccines in eight days, after the federal government denied a request for more supply.

The delay comes as multiple state government leaders directly criticised the prime minister’s suggestion that people aged under 40 should approach GPs to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite blood clot fears. The states of Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia have each distanced themselves from the suggestion.

Data released on Thursday showed that just 7.92% of Australians aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated.

The Royal Australia College of General Practitioners (RACGP) called this week for a new national vaccine campaign, after a survey conducted by the professional body found that 92% of respondents believed Australia needed improved “public awareness and education”. The government has so far released a straightforward video campaign in which the former deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, speaks to the camera and asks people to get vaccinated.

“The only ad I ever see is Dr Nick Coatsworth with a stethoscope around his neck just saying, ‘Trust the government, get vaccinated’,” Burnet Institute Epidemiologist Prof Mike Toole told the RACGP. “I don’t think that is really going to persuade anyone who’s hesitant – there’s no specificity about which vaccine.”

The ad has been mocked for its lack of creativity and emotive appeal – and the RACGP has warned that anti-vaxxers are filling the void.

How Australia's vaccination ad campaign compares with the rest of the world – video
How Australia’s vaccination ad campaign compares with the rest of the world – video

Earlier in this week, Lt Gen John Frewen, who is in charge of the vaccine rollout, said that the government had yet to launch what he called a “rallying” national vaccination ad campaign because of the lack of Pfizer supply.

“The timing of the ad campaign really was around the supply of Pfizer,” he said on Wednesday. In a separate interview on 21 June he said: “We want to make sure that we don’t start the campaign until we’re comfortable that we can meet the demand that we hope will be engendered by the campaign.”

On Thursday, as 27 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Australia and large swaths of the country remained in lockdown, the debate around international arrivals grew more heated.

Australia has had closed borders with strict entry and exit requirements for more than a year, leading to roughly 40,000 Australians still being stranded overseas and growing frustration from those in the country as Europe, the UK and other developed nations reopen to international travel.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, called for an 80% reduction in the hotel quarantine capacity for the next three to four months until the vaccination rollout ramps up.

The Queensland premier, Anastasia Palaszczuk, warned on Wednesday night that Australia risked losing the chance to vaccinate the population before more widespread outbreaks occur, as she, too, called for a reduction in arrival capacity, and for quarantine to be moved to purpose-built regional facilities – away from densely-populated areas.

“We have had a magical moment here, a magical moment in time we are never going to get back, where we could have had the entire population vaccinated before the virus has arrived in this way,” she told local media. “And now I am very concerned that we may have left it too late.”

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