Chief Minister Michael Gunner has conceded the Territory will not hit the coveted 80 per cent vaccination rate needed to provide “more freedoms” by the date originally forecast, and offered a best-guess revised timetable of “late November, maybe early December”.
But Mr Gunner’s new forecast is in stark contrast to the national figures that show the Territory won’t reach its 80 per cent vaccinated goal until January – after the Christmas holidays.
Mr Gunner said on September 15 that the Territory’s border restrictions would ease once the 80 per cent vaccination rate is met in early November, which he called a “50-day race to freedom” that will now not be met on time.
As part of his highly touted “roadmap” to freedom from the tyranny of COVID, Mr Gunner said border restrictions would be eased once 80 per cent of Territorians are vaccinated, replacing lockdowns with “lockouts” for un-vaccinated people and home quarantining instead of 14 days at Howard Springs.
Mr Gunner said on Monday that Territorians could travel interstate over the Christmas holidays and not have to quarantine at Howard Springs upon returning home – but that also does not appear achievable by federal vaccine figures.
“The domestic home base quarantining, that obviously will definitely come in early December, around then, on the double dose 80 (per cent vaccinated), that’s, we’re definitely well on track for that,” he said on Mix 104.9.
“You can have the comfort of going interstate knowing about a quarantine at home before Christmas, that’s what we’re working towards, there’s nothing that says we’re not – everything says that we’re on track for that.”
However, national data compiled by The Guardian as of Monday, shows the NT is lagging the rest of the country in vaccination rates and shows the NT won’t reach 80 per cent of second doses until January.
The Guardian released its data analysis on the current seven-day average of first doses for each state or territory, plus the most recent lag time between first and second doses which estimates the NT to hit 80 per cent of its second dose on 6 – 11 January 2022 and 70 per cent second dose on 25 – 30 November 2021.
Despite having the smallest number of people to inoculate with COVID vaccines, the NT has the slowest rate of vaccine rollout amongst states and territories, the analysis shows.
Nevertheless, the NT Government claimed more than 80 per cent of Territorians will receive their first COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the week.
Last month, Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy criticised the government’s communications strategy around its vaccine policy saying that the NT Government’s public communication campaigns are not effective in convincing people to get their jabs.
“One of the biggest criticisms here is that the communication has not been there, not even in the languages, appropriately, and that is where I’ve been pushing – people need to be informed to make the right decisions for themselves,” Senator McCarthy said.
NT Health said vaccination teams continue to visit remote communities multiple times across all regions of the Territory “to ensure every Territorian who wants to get vaccinated has an opportunity to do so.”
NT Health vaccination teams are targeting Yulara, Yuendumu, Epenarra, Wadeye, and Gumbalanya in vaccination drives this week.
But NT Health, which uses total vaccinations administered in the NT instead of by home address, claimed 78 per cent of Territorians have received their first dose and 66 per cent are now fully vaccinated, with more than 61 per cent of remote Territorians having received their first dose, and 44 per cent fully vaccinated.
“This comes ahead of the Territory Government’s commitment to transition to Stage 3 of the National Plan with 80 per cent full vaccination rates expected to be reached in November,” the government said in a statement.
Mr Gunner appeared to say the slow uptake of vaccines in remote communities would not slow the rest of the Northern Territory down and could see other “public health measures” such as banning people from visiting remote communities if they do not reach the 80 per cent milestone. But he did not make that clear in the interview Monday morning.
He said Yuendumu is only at 20 per cent and said the community was clearly not interested in getting vaccinated, “but we’re not giving up”.