IT IS now apparently compulsory to insert the word “bungled” before any mention of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
I’ve done it myself, but last week, with renewed outbreaks of disease around the country, I began to wonder if the word was adequate.
The origins of the word “bungle” are uncertain. An etymological dictionary on my shelves suggests, albeit without much confidence, that it might be a combination of the words boggle (to start with fright) and bumble (to blunder).
Online, I find one dictionary suggesting it comes from old Norse, via the Swedish slang term “bangla”, to work ineffectually. An online thesaurus provides a list of possible synonyms: botch, miscalculate, err, mishandle, flub, screw up, and so on.
Frankly, rather like the vaccine rollout itself, none of them seem fit for purpose.
A bungle sounds like the kind of mess a hapless parent might get into when trying to build the kids a cubby house without a plan or any of the proper tools.
Bungles don’t have serious consequences. They don’t put half the population in lockdown and pose serious health risks to the most vulnerable members of our community.
The incompetence of the vaccine roll-out is staggering: from the initial failure to secure supply of an adequate range of vaccines, to absence of logistical planning, repeated refusal to set or commit to targets, confused and contradictory messaging, and the ongoing failure to provide clear information to the health professionals who are supposed to deliver the vaccines.
For more detail, you might want to check out this article by health economist Dr Stephen Duckett, a former secretary of the federal Health Department, now with the Grattan Institute.
The multiple failures have led to Australia ranking last among OECD countries in the proportion of its population fully vaccinated, according to a widely shared graphic from Our World in Data.
At just 5.8%, Australia was well below the next worst performing nation (New Zealand at 9%) and was soundly beaten by many far less wealthy countries including Chile (54.07%), Greece (35.79%), Slovenia (31.78%) and Costa Rica (15.92%). Israel topped the score card at 59.69%.
Perhaps even worse than this abysmal failure is the federal government’s apparent blithe lack of concern about its jerry-built cubby house.
Yes, the roof may have fallen in and one of the kids may be waiting in the emergency department with a nail through her foot but, hey, the grown-ups have moved on to their next exciting project (commuter carpark, anyone?).
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a media conference last week the task was to “continue with the urgency of the vaccine roll-out”, which had to make you wonder what a lack of urgency might look like.
This is, after all, the same Prime Minister who had earlier told us the vaccine roll-out was “not a race”.
“But I can’t stress enough that the major frustration here is the virus,” the Prime Minister continued last week. “That is the major thing working against Australia. The reason we’ve got a lockdown is because of a pandemic and a virus.”
True, obviously, but not exactly meaningful in the face of questions about the government’s responsibility to address the ravages of that virus.
In lockdown again, I’m looking for a new descriptor to replace “bungled”. “Culpably negligent” might do the job, but other suggestions are welcome.
Jane McCredie is a health and science writer based in lockdown … er, Sydney.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.