Health system coughs up almost $50b fighting COVID

Alex Mitchell |

Australia spent $27.9 billion on primary care during the pandemic, including rolling out vaccines.
Australia spent $27.9 billion on primary care during the pandemic, including rolling out vaccines.

Australia’s health system dropped a whopping $48 billion on the COVID-19 response, as authorities warn of an alarming drop off in vaccination rates.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found 7.2 per cent of overall health spending was focused on COVID between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

A separate reported warned Australians need to drastically improve vaccination rates as the virus continues to infect people around the country “with deadly consequences”.

The $47.9 billion spent was only two per cent more than expected based on the AIHW’s linear forecast of the preceding 10 years.

A nurse vaccinates a patient.
The rate of vaccinations has plunged since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brendon Thorne/AAP PHOTOS)

“This is referred to as ‘additional health spending’ … Australia had the seventh lowest additional health spending out of 36 countries,” AIHW spokesman Geoff Callaghan said.

“Health spending spiked less sharply in Australia than in many other OECD countries during the first three years of the pandemic.”

At the same time, the AIHW says Australia had one of the lowest global excess death rates, which compares actual deaths with the predicted number for the same period.

Australia’s death rate was four per cent higher than forecast during the COVID period.

Of the $48 billion spent, $27.9 billion went to primary care including the vaccine rollout and $10.5 billion went to public hospitals.

The figures came amid concerns over the big drop in vaccination rates.

A Grattan Institute report showed Australia’s COVID vaccine rate has “plunged” in recent times, particularly among vulnerable people.

Of high-risk Australian adults, 27 per cent have had a COVID shot in the past six months, down from more than 90 per cent in December 2021.

The report said 2.5 million people aged more than 65 years were behind on their COVID vaccinations, a staggering increase of two million people in a single year.

“The consequences are deadly, because COVID is still with us, and it’s still causing more deaths and putting more people in hospital than the flu,” the report reads.

The Grattan Institute called for governments to “get their house in order”, believing a new National Vaccination Agreement that set goals and incentives for adult vaccines that used among children should be implemented.

More than 5000 Australians have died from COVID since October 2022 and in excess of 1200 people were in hospital with severe COVID at the end of this October.

Another AIHW report released on Wednesday found $150 billion was spent on specific disease groups in 2020-21, which was 72 per cent of total recurrent health spending.

Musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis and back pain accounted for the highest amount spent ($14.7 billion in 2020-21), followed by cancers ($14.6 billion) and cardiovascular diseases ($14.3 billion).