As part of its pandemic response, the Australian government purchased 267.3 million doses of Covid vaccines, enough to vaccinate Australia's population of approximately 26 million people ten times over.

But figures released to me by the Department of Health (DOH) this week confirm that, three years into the vaccine program, only 70 million doses, or 26% of the 267.3 million doses purchased, have been administered, while 35% of vaccines doses have been wasted since the start of the vaccine rollout.

Last week, the Australian reported that more than 35% of Covid vaccines were being tossed out as of January due to oversupply. The revelation came from the DOH's public submission to the federal Covid inquiry.

The wording made it unclear if this was a cumulative figure or applicable only to the month of January, so I contacted the DOH to confirm the total wastage to date, along with some further questions on the value of doses purchased, delivered, and wasted, and exactly how many had been administered.

A DOH spokesperson responded,
"As of 31 March 2024 the total COVID-19 vaccine program wastage rate was at 35.69%. Australia's wastage rate is within the World Health Organization (WHO) acceptable wastage parameters for multidose vials of 15% and 40%.

"Approximately 80% of COVID-19 vaccine wastage is attributed to expiry of doses across warehouses and vaccine administration sites."
This appears to mean that 80% of the wasted doses simply expired on the shelf.

The remaining 20% of wasted doses would likely be due to administration sites not managing to use the entire contents of multi-dose vials once opened. While unopened vials have a shelf-life of anywhere between 9-18 months, opened vials must be used within 6-48 hours.

The DOH refused to confirm the value of doses purchased or wasted, or how many of the purchased doses have actually been delivered, "for contractural and security reasons." The Australian government has repeatedly refused to release details of its tax-payer-funded Covid vaccine purchase agreements.

However, we know that total government spending on Covid vaccines and treatment supply amounts to over $18 billion, of which it appears that the lion's share was allocated to purchasing vaccine doses.1
australia vaccine
© Department of Health and Aged Care
Most of these remain unused. DOH figures provided to me this week show that as at 3 April, only a quarter (70 million) of the 267.3 million purchased doses had been used, at a total usage rate of 26.2%

Of the remaining 197.3 million unadministered doses, the DOH advised that approximately 53 million doses have been donated as foreign aid.2

That leaves approximately 144 million doses, more than half of the total stockpile, either already expired, or likely to expire within the next several years, as booster rates hover below 10%. 3

As Australia's vaccine purchases extend into 2023 and 2024, it is probable that a portion of these doses still be viable up to 2025.

But even if vaccine doses never expired, it would take Australians 29 years to work their way through the glut, based on the five million boosters administered in the past 12 months.

As it stands, usage rates by brand are as below:
  • Of 131 million Pfizer doses purchased, 48.5 million have been administered, a usage rate of 37%. 82.5 million doses remain.
  • Of 29 million Moderna doses purchased, 7.5 million have been administered, a usage rate of 25.7%. 21.5 million doses remain.
  • Of 56.3 million AstraZeneca doses purchased, 13.8 million have been administered, a usage rate of 24.5%. As the AstraZeneca stockpile expired on 20 March 2023, the remaining 42.5 million doses have been binned, unless they were donated as aid prior to this date.
  • Stunningly, of 51 million Novavax doses purchased, only 273,700 have been administered, a usage rate of 0.5%. 50.7 million doses, 99.5% of the stockpile, remain. This is because by the time Novavax was approved for use, in December 2021, over 90% of Australians aged 16 and over had already been double vaccinated.
covid vaccine australia
In a July 2022 article investigating Australia's already apparent vast vaccine wastage, the ABC asked if perhaps the government had bought too many vaccines?

Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor of Public Health at La Trobe University, criticised the government's run on the global vaccine supply, suggesting that Australia had hoarded more than its share.

Prof Gleeson told the ABC,
"Australia really participated in a bigger trend that we've seen worldwide of wealthy countries buying up far more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than they needed early on in the pandemic. And this is a practice that unfortunately has continued."
It's enough to make advocates for global vaccine equity lose sleep at night.

The news of the Australian government's wastage of billions of dollars worth of Covid vaccines comes as Australians are grappling with the soaring cost of living and the worst housing crisis on record, with over a quarter of a million Australians accessing homelessness services in 2022-2023.


1 The government webpage also details investment in aid program COVAX, and research and supply chain developments, including some funding for the development of a potential Covid vaccine (since abandoned). The page mentions a 10-year partnership with Moderna and the Victorian Government that will see Moderna build an mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility at Monash University Victoria. However, it is unclear if funding for the Moderna partnership comes from this $18 billion investment, or from other funding.

2 From a DOH spokesperson,
"Australia has donated more than 52 million doses to countries in the Indo Pacific and Southeast Asia.

ยท 23.6 million as part of our commitment to share 40 million doses through the Department's procured supply; and

ยท 28.5 million as part of the commitment to share 20 million doses through DFAT's agreement with UNICEF.

"Australia has offered a further 16.8 million doses to the COVAX Facility for distribution to participating developed and developing countries. Of the 755,200 doses that were accepted by the COVAX Facility, 14,400 have been donated."
3 Note that because the DOH would not confirm how many of the 267.3 million purchased doses have been delivered, the precise number of doses sitting in the national stockpile cannot be determined. However, the vaccine agreement webpage does specify delivery dates of some purchases, and from this, it can be ascertained that the great majority of doses purchased have already been delivered.