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.


Australia's slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout is putting us at risk of a major outbreak
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8 thoughts on “Vaccine roll-out: testing the limits of the thesaurus

  1. paul Beaumont says:

    I find this comment very biased. Why not state the truth? Australia has 24.6% with their first vaccination and New Zealand, sadly lagging behind at 14% The immunity 2 weeks after first vaccination is excellent. Australia is not doing too badly and is now proceeding nicely.

    In retrospect we could have done better. Politicians in my experience are not the decision makers it is the medical advisers. I give them no accolades and no admonishments for what has turned out. I just worry about the advice our profession has handed out.

    Using the situation to deride and accuse them of lying repeatedly says more about the writer than the facts

  2. Robbo says:

    Since when has it been the policy of the AMA to promulgate ALP claptrap. We are at the end of a supply line and have been subject to the conspiracy of vested interest from major American Pharmas seeking to discredit the not-for-profit AZ vaccine and promote their own lucrative versions. Articles such as this only achieve panic and support the Anti-vaxx campaign

  3. John McConachy says:

    This appears to be a somewhat politically motivated assessment taking no account of the multiplicity of factors contributing to the slow roll out. There appears to be an adequate supply of locally manufactured Astra Zeneca vaccine however medical advice suggested this should be confined initially to 50 plus and more recently 60 plus. Pfizer vaccine is in short supply no doubt mainly due to the very successful control of the pandemic in this country such that countries experiencing massive death tolls have been given priority. As I understand when the vaccines were ordered none had passed full accreditation so it is easy in hindsight to say we relied on the wrong vaccine. In fact Astra Zeneca is most effective however media publicity of the low risk of side effects has resulted in significant hesitancy for this vaccine. It is apparent that the rate of vaccination is now improving considerably with current levels now above 8%. Rates for full vaccination with Astra Zeneca will be lower because of the 3 month interval between doses. This article appears to make no positive contribution to the current situation.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Is it a “ bungle” to invest in local production of an unrestricted supply of vaccine which only 12MONTHS LATER is proven to have a minuscule mortality rate – less even than the risk of COVID associated mortality in this VERY lucky country?
    Or is it IRRESPONSIBILITY on behalf of the media to propagate half-truths and misinformation (as recently as yesterday morning on “Insiders” a programme on our “esteemed” and publicly funded ABC) that has resulted in vaccine hesitancy putting us all at greater risk.

  5. Bryan Farage says:

    I heard one expert comment on the “stroll out” ! 🙂

    Just see the details of a few TTS cases : “hesitancy” = common sense weighing of the real risk, fortunately, for most Australians ie vaccination & the albeit small risk of a very nasty complication v wait for Pfizer – NOT vaccination v almost certain exposure to Covid.

  6. Andrew Watkins says:

    Clear messaging requires a competent, evidence based message, which has been notably absent.

    It also requires a credible messenger. We have a PM (?Prime Menteur) noted for mastery of lies and spin, so it is far from surprising that nobody believes him nor acts on his advice

    This should have been left to the adults in the room. The job of politicians is to get the best advice possible and to then plan and fund the implementation

    It is not to make health policy in press conferences, blindsiding the adults in the room

    We deserve a lot better

  7. Anonymous says:

    Vaccine HESISTANCY is to blame.

    HESISTANCY is what happens when you have to choose between being hesitant or being resistant due to poor messaging .

  8. Norman R Saunders AM says:

    Excellent article
    I suggest “Monumental cock up”

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