Explainer: How are Covid vaccines allocated among Australia's states and territories?

The dust has now settled on coverage of a so-called “secret deal” which resulted in NSW receiving additional Pfizer doses.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Albert Perez/AAP

There has previously been a lack of transparency in exactly how vaccines are allocated, and in what quantities they are being sent to each area.

With that in mind, we requested as much information as possible (here’s the data if you want the raw numbers) about how vaccines are distributed in our rollout program, and the exact number of doses that have been distributed to every state and territory by type of vaccine.

© Photograph: Albert Perez/AAP The distribution of Covid Vaccine doses in Australia depends on a number of factors.

How does the government decide how many doses to give to each state?

The distribution of doses depends on a number of factors. Health minister Greg Hunt has previously said that “every state and every territory receives a per capita allocation”.

Related: Australian children under 12 could be vaccinated this year as minister urges Pfizer to seek approval

However, the population of a state isn’t the only factor, according to a spokesperson from Operation Covid Shield, who says the number of people in priority groups in each state and territory has also been a factor in the allocation of vaccines in the earlier stages of the rollout. In states with large populations the contribution of these priority groups in shifting the allocation away from a population-based one is negligible, but in smaller states and territories the differences are more pronounced.

As reported previously, the extra New South Wales doses were due to a greater number of GPs in NSW being added into a vaccine rollout program enabling them to administer Pfizer, as opposed to being AstraZeneca-only. These additional doses, when added to the state total, meant that NSW received a larger number of doses than you’d expect if allocation was done on a purely per capita basis – however, this is not the full story. More on this below.

How do the number of Pfizer doses delivered vary from what we might expect under a per capita distribution?

Looking at the number of Pfizer vaccines each state receives, versus the expected number of vaccines if they were delivered in proportion with the states’ population, shows that the delivery of doses is rarely as expected:

While NSW has recently shot up into more vaccines than a per capita allocation – due to the doses brought forward, bought in, and allocated to GPs – for most months NSW has actually been receiving fewer vaccines than expected. Smaller states and territories like the ACT and NT consistently receive more, which could be due to a larger proportion of priority demographics relative to the general population. Also Pfizer deliveries are grouped into trays of a set amount – so each delivery must be in multiples of around 1170 doses.

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Victoria received a larger amount than expected in June, due to extra doses being allocated in that month, and then a lower amount after this.

And now that Pfizer is being delivered via GPs, Lt Gen John Frewen has made a commitment that there will be an equitable share of these GP-delivered Pfizer doses between the states and territories, and more GP clinics being added to the Pfizer program.

This has been the strategy throughout the outbreak – where more serious outbreaks occur, vaccines are brought forward and re-directed to hotspots, with the intention that over the course of the entire rollout the distribution will remain in line with a per capita allocation.

What else affects the number of doses a state receives?

However, the allocation amount is not the only factor that determines the number of vaccines a state will receive. From the allocation amount, each state and territory can order a number of doses up to the total allocation amount. This is also the case for GP clinics, pharmacies, and other clinics, which are grouped together by the government as “commonwealth primary care”.

Surprisingly, this ordering amount is not always 100% of the available allocation, even for Pfizer.

Here you can see the percentage of how many doses from each state’s allocation they have actually ordered up to week 28 of the rollout:

The figures show, unsurprisingly, that take-up of AstraZeneca is nowhere near 100%, but also that several states – Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – have not been ordering the maximum possible amount of Pfizer.

This ordering percentage also makes it impossible to look at the delivery of all doses – both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – versus the expected per capita allocation, as some media outlets have done.

Different states have taken different approaches to getting people vaccinated

This chart shows the proportion of vaccination doses delivered by type, across all administration sites within that state:

Looking at the data this way shows that even though some states (such as NSW) might seem to have a low utilisation of AstraZeneca based on the state-run clinic ordering figures above. In fact the delivery of AstraZeneca and Pfizer is relatively similar across the most populous states, what varies are the places it is being administered.

Related: Australia’s supply of Pfizer Covid vaccine may face disruption in October

That is, states vary on how much they rely on state-run vaccine hubs versus GPs and pharmacies, with NSW and Queensland having a relatively higher proportion of vaccines going through primary care, and Victoria and WA having a relatively higher proportion of vaccines going through state clinics:

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